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Various concerns regarding Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in the UK.
A close look at 'alternative' medicine
Noteworthy CAM articles and reports
“Over ten years of alternative medicine policy, successive [UK] governments have perfected the mystical art of "regulating without regulating”… Alternative medicine practitioners are being brought under a light-touch regulatory umbrella that confers legitimacy on them while allowing them to continue business-as-usual free of any requirement to demonstrate the evidence-base for their treatments. Industries built on pseudo-science are being allowed to pass themselves off as regulated health professions while subject to few of the checks of mainstream medicine. This is happening in spite of repeated scandals demonstrating the appalling record of professional bodies in the industry who have attempted to mislead Parliament, or allowed substantial proportions of their membership to make bogus claims.” Martin Robbins, The Guardian (23rd February 2011)
“GPs are being prevented from putting controversial NICE guidance on low back pain into action because primary care organisations [PCOs] are refusing to fund its recommendations of acupuncture and spinal manipulation. Of 127 PCOs responding to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, half said they were currently providing no funding for spinal manipulation. And funding for acupuncture fared even worse, with only 15% of PCOs having any record of funding the procedure for low back pain in the last three years….The institute’s guidance on low back pain advises that patients should be offered exercise, a course of manual therapy or acupuncture as first-line treatments. The recommendation was fiercely attacked by musculoskeletal specialists, who questioned whether there was evidence the treatments were effective on top of standard care. Pulse’s investigation suggests PCOs have felt able to ignore NICE’s recommendation because of the controversy surrounding it.” Pulse (8th September 2010) [Free registration]
Giving influence on medical policy to David Tredinnick – a man who believes moon phases affect surgery – is a bad move: “…Tredinnick is on the nuttier side of woomongery. You may also recall that his unique contribution to the expenses brouhaha was that we, the people, stumped up over £500 for astrology software for him. He then voted to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act. In the 1990s he was suspended in the cash-for-questions debacle. Dodgy expenses, bribery, astrology, homeopathy, lunacy (or whatever moon-based fluff is called), Tredinnick's got the full deck. Others more patient than I can and have and will continue to sigh and explain why it's all bollocks. Here's the punchline: Tredinnick has been voted on to the parliamentary health select committee. He now has de facto direct influence over policy decisions concerning medicine and the health of our nation.” Adam Rutherford, Guardian (25th June 2010)
"A Scottish university has become the latest institution to scrap its homeopathy provision after coming under pressure from a campaigner against “pseudoscience” courses…The course has been the target of a campaign by David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London and an outspoken critic of institutions offering courses in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). He lodged a request under the Freedom of Information Act to see the course materials in September 2009. “[Robert Gordon] closed the course just before the Information Commissioner for Scotland judged the appeal against its refusal to release course materials,” Professor Colquhoun says in his blog. He has since received the material from the university…The decision by Robert Gordon will come as a particular blow to supporters of homeopathy. The institution’s late vice-chancellor, Michael Pittilo, who died in February, was an advocate of the teaching of CAM and a trustee of The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health.” Zoe Corbyn, Times Higher Education (19th April 2010)
“Why is there a need for an alternative medicine regulator in the first place? This question has never been answered satisfactorily. Either a product is a medicine, in which case it should be allowed to make health claims and be regulated as a medicine by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), or it is not, in which case it shouldn't be allowed to make health claims and should be regulated in the same way as, say, a packet of Tic-Tacs. Allowing this bizarre pseudo-regulation to continue risks legitimising a whole range of bogus medical practices.” As panic and confusion spread among the practitioners of alternative medicine, Martin Robbins calls for the industry's products and practices to be brought under mainstream medical regulations. The Guardian (16th April 2010)
"The University of Buckingham is to withdraw accreditation from a postgraduate diploma in integrated medicine less than a year after it was validated by the institution. The U-turn comes after concerns were raised about the "pseudo-science" content of the course in light of a campaign led by David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, an outspoken critic of university courses in complementary and alternative medicine. Buckingham, the UK's only private university, announced last July that it was validating the two-year diploma course, run by the Bath-based charity the Integrated Health Trust (IHT). The university was involved in developing the diploma…In a statement, the university declines to say why it has changed its mind, but confirms it will "terminate its association" with the IHT from September 2011, following the completion of the diploma by the first cohort of students.The university stresses that it will maintain its "duty of care" to the students until they graduate in February 2012.” Zoe Corbyn, Times Higher Education (15th April 2010)
“There is something very offensive about the idea that a ‘bachelor of science’ degree can be awarded by a university, as a prize for memorising gobbledygook….I asked Middlesex University for samples of their teaching materials under the Freedom of Information Act, and, as usual, the request was refused. As usual, I then asked for the mandatory internal review of the decision, and this time, most unusually, the internal review did not confirm the initial refusal and I was sent a bundle of teaching materials about Chinese Herbal Medicine, It was not all I asked for, but it is quite enough to show the absurd ideas that are still being taught as part of bachelor of Science degree in a UK University…Not only are the ideas absurd, pre-scientific, indeed antiscientific. They are also dangerous. People who have been taught this nonsense are going out and being let loose on sick people.” Professor David Colquhoun, DC Science (12th April 2010)
“In January 2009, a course in "integrated medicine" was announced that, it was said, would be accredited by the University of Buckingham. The course was to be led by Drs Rosy Daniel and Mark Atkinson. So I sent an assessment of Rosy Daniel’s claims to "heal" cancer to Buckingham’s VC (president), Terence Kealey, After meeting Karol Sikora and Rosy Daniel, I sent an analysis of the course tutors to Kealey who promptly demoted Daniel, and put Prof Andrew Miles in charge of the course. The course went ahead in September 2009. Despite Miles’ efforts, the content was found to be altogether too alternative. The University of Buckingham has now terminated its contract with the "Faculty of Integrated Medicine", and the course will close.” Professor David Colquohoun, DC Science (1st April 2010)
“One of the world’s leading centres for alternative medicine research is facing closure for lack of money after a row with a senior aide to the Prince of Wales. The influential unit at the University of Exeter headed by Edzard Ernst, Britain’s first Professor of Complementary Medicine, will shut next spring unless a new financial backer can be found.” News report by Mark Henderson, Science Editor, Times Online (3rd March 2010)
“The government’s review into regulation of alternative therapists has recommended that it should be compulsory to have a university degree in alternative therapies, and that universities should run such courses. And what is taught on these courses? You cannot know, because the universities have gone to shameful lengths over many years, to the point of multiple appeals at the highest level with the Information Commissioner, to keep the contents of these science degrees a closely guarded secret. Myself and Professor David Colquhoun of UCL have obtained occasional course materials from students themselves, who thought they were going to be taught the scientific evidence base for alternative medicine, and have been dismayed by what they found. You can see why the universities wanted to hide them. Handouts from the Bachelor of Science degree in Chinese Medicine at Westminster University, for example, show students being taught – on a science degree – that the spleen is “the root of post-heaven essence”, “Houses Thought (and is affected by pensiveness/over thinking) ” and is responsible for the “transformation of qi energy”, “keeping the muscles warm and firm”. “Marrow helps fill the brain”. “Sin Jiao assists the Lungs ‘dispersing function’, spreading fluids to skin in form of fine mist or vapour (so it helps regulate fluid production…)”. We also see the traditional anti-vaccine spiel, as students are taught that vaccination is a significant cause of cancer.” Ben Goldacre, Bad Science, The Guardian (20th February 2010)
“A school initiative that trains children in “energy therapy” has been criticised as unscientific by two senior academics. The “EmoTrance” project is taking place at the Haydon School in Pinner, Middlesex. Nineteen pupils are being trained in “emotional transformation”, which is described in a press release from EmoTrance.com as a “practical system for energy healing and energy working”. Kathryn Ecclestone, professor of education and social inclusion at the University of Birmingham, said: “I would question the underlying scientific evidence for this. The fact that taxpayers’ money is being spent on programmes such as EmoTrance with no debate has to be a cause for concern.” She called for a proper scientific evaluation of psychological interventions in schools. David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London and a campaigner against the teaching of pseudoscience in schools and universities, described EmoTrance as “psychobabble”. “The ‘human energy fields’ referred to on the EmoTrance website are totally unknown to science,” he said. “How can kids be taught real science if their minds are corrupted by this sort of preposterous make-believe?”” Times Higher Education (11th November 2009)
“It seems very reasonable to suggest that taxpayers have an interest in knowing what is taught in universities. The recent Pittilo report suggested that degrees should be mandatory in Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. So it seems natural to ask to see what is actually taught in these degrees, so one can judge whether it protects the public or endangers them. Since universities in the UK receive a great deal of public money, it’s easy. Just request the material under the Freedom of Information Act. Well, uh, it isn’t as simple as that. Every single application that I have made has been refused.” DC Science (20th October 2009)
“Yesterday, the House of Commons saw a debate on the funding of medical astrology. Yes. Medical Astrology. The Hansard Report of the debate has a seventeenth century feel to it. Tredinnick asserts that the phase of the moon influences the number of accidents and stops blood from clotting. He has tales of eastern lands that use astronomical signs to influence health care and governments that have official astrological systems. Britain should have them too. It goes without saying that David Tredinnick is off with the faeries. He is also the democratically elected representative of the constituency of Bosworth. His parliamentary history is tarred by his involvement with the ‘cash for questions’ affair and the recent revelations that he was using parliamentary expenses to buy astrology software and training from ‘Crucial Astro Tools’. Whilst we might dismiss this man as an eccentric buffoon, the government’s response to his speech is a large cause for concern. Tredinnick uses his speech to rant about his desire to see more government funding of quackery within the NHS and to use legislation to support quacks in their work. He covers a lot of ground. The Quackometer (15th October 2009)
“While Prof Ernst may have become a thorn in the side of complementary therapy, he isn't alone. With alternative therapy having entered the mainstream, leading doctors have previously called on NHS trusts to only use treatments whose benefits are based on solid evidence and aside from his studies, numerous other groups have cast doubt on their effectiveness.” Yorkshire Post (1st October 2009)
“…our analysis shows that many NICE guidelines have evaluated CAM. But there is a substantial degree of inconsistency: some are comprehensive, while others are not. The decision of whether or not to consider CAM for any given topic appears to be somewhat arbitrary. Generally speaking, this inconsistency seems to be at odds with NICE’s excellent track record of evaluating conventional treatments, by utilising a transparent and rigid hierarchy of evidence for its recommendations. We therefore suggest that, in future, NICE should evaluate CAM by the same standards as conventional medicine.” Edzard Ernst and Rohini Terry, British Journal of General Practice (September 2009)
A critical look at medical claims, plus a look at the issues surrounding the general understanding of medicine. (UK-Skeptics)
Including the definition dilemma, the lying dilemma, and the training dilemma. Article by David Colquhoun, FRS, Research Professor of Pharmacology, University College London.
House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. (The United Kingdom Parliament)
"The Academy advocates that all medical interventions should be underpinned by a scientific understanding of normal and pathological structure and function. All medical and health care interventions should be evaluated using the same general approach and to the same standard of evidence about effectiveness and safety." [pdf]