Top British doctors say NHS complementary therapies jeopardises provision of effective medicine

A group of eminent British doctors are saying that complementary or alternative therapies such as homeopathy should not be offered on the National Health Service (NHS).

The group led by Professor Michael Baum, Emeritus Professor of Surgery at University College London are calling on the NHS to stop funding complementary therapies when hospitals are laying off staff due to budget deficits.

Their demand for a review on how money is spent has come in the form of a letter to the Times newspaper and individual health trusts.

The group of 13 top doctors and scientists say they are concerned about ways in which unproven or disproved treatments are being encouraged for general use in the NHS.

They say the NHS is under intense pressure, and patients, the public and the NHS are best served by using the available funds for treatments that are based on solid evidence.

They have accused the government of allowing funds to be used for the "overt" promotion of homeopathy which it calls "an implausible treatment for which over a dozen systematic reviews have failed to produce convincing evidence of effectiveness."

The timing of the publication of the letter is interesting as it coincides with a speech about to be given by Prince Charles, a long-time advocate of complementary medicines, to the World Health Organisation in Geneva.

In recent years complementary therapies and medicines such as acupuncture and herbalism have gained acclaim world wide often with little scientific evidence to suggest they actually work.

In recent months as many as 7,000 job losses have been announced across the health service and recruitment has been halted in many hospitals as they tackle an estimated overspend of over 600 million pounds.

Baum says money should be diverted towards proven health practices and he takes issue with money being spent on placebos which jeopardises the provision of effective medicines.

But of course advocates of alternative therapies disagree and insist there is evidence that supports the view that many complementary therapies do work.

Complementary therapies are those which are not proven by the clinical standards of Western medicine but which in many cases have been used for centuries to relieve people's symptoms.

They include practices such as spinal manipulation, homeopathy, acupuncture, reflexology, aromatherapy as well as a variety of 'hands on healing' techniques such as 'reiki' and 'shiatsu'.

In order for a medicine or procedure to be used in conventional medicine, it must go through scientific trials where its effectiveness must be proven.

However when such methods are applied, complementary medicines often fail to show how they work.

Advocates for complementary medicines say conventional testing methods cannot recreate the effect of the therapies reported by individuals, but many doctors, including the British Medical Association, are insisting that better regulation of complementary therapies and those who provide them is badly needed.

The Royal Homeopathic Hospital is part of the NHS, and it estimates that many family doctors provide some form of complementary therapy for their patients.

The Patients Association has called for equal access, and said all GPs should be in a position to refer patients to a complementary therapist.

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