It’s lovely to have alternatives available for conventional, Western medicine. It’s nice to have an open mind. I make these statements with only a touch of wryness; I do sincerely try to keep an open mind. Nevertheless, I am really rather relieved to read news reports about a group of leading British doctors who have directly challenged the way many National Health Service (NHS) trusts use their funds. As reported by The Times Online:
A group of Britain’s leading doctors has urged every NHS trust to stop paying for alternative medicine and to use the money for conventional treatments. Their appeal is a direct challenge to the Prince of Wales’s outspoken campaign to widen access to complementary therapies. Public funding of “unproven or disproved treatments” such as homoeopathy and reflexology, which are promoted by the Prince, is unacceptable while huge NHS deficits are forcing trusts to sack nurses and limit access to life-saving drugs, the doctors say.
I have very little faith in the NHS, as some of you may already know, but, rather ironically, the aforementioned doctors’ lack of faith towards unproven alternative therapies is increasing my faith towards the doctors.
Some alternative therapies may form a solid support mechanism for suffering patients, but I do think they should be an optional extra — a luxury in a way — not something the taxpayers pay for. If any of the alternative therapies would be scientifically proven to be consistently effective in treating serious conditions, I’d be saying different things. If I have a tension headache, or if I am feeling the pressure of stress, aromatherapy might help. But I wouldn’t dream of making someone else pay for my treatment. If I have an incurable disease for which I am receiving conventional treatment, I might also wish to use some additional therapies. But the additional therapies should be a choice, an extra, and entirely at the expense of the private individual.
Some alternative therapies seem to hover between the line of conventional and alternative. That’s when this whole thing becomes very messy and it’s hard to hold on to a hard line on either side of the argument. The BBC News Online health team has a wonderful set of resources and has been examining these very issues:
Research conducted by the BBC has shown that alternative medicines are becoming increasingly popular. Yet their effectiveness is yet to be proven to the majority of medical practitioners in the UK and there are concerns over safety as many of the treatments remain untested.
My biggest beef is with Homeopathy. You see, it’s utter bollocks. Well, apart from the sometimes, admittedly, very vividly experienced Placebo effect. Let me elaborate (although the above statement sums it all up quite tidily). The original concept of Homeopathy, when explained to a person to whom metaphysical matters are of interest, will sound inviting, promising, and even plausible; to treat the patient with a little bit of what might be making them unwell. From (the utterly scrumptious) Skeptic’s Dictionary:
Classical homeopathy is generally defined as a system of medical treatment based on the use of minute quantities of remedies that in larger doses produce effects similar to those of the disease being treated. Hahnemann believed that very small doses of a medication could have very powerful healing effects because their potency could be affected by vigorous and methodical shaking (succussion). Hahnemann referred to this alleged increase in potency by vigorous shaking as dynamization. Hahnemann thought succussion could release immaterial and spiritual powers, thereby making substances more active. Tapping on a leather pad or the heel of the hand was alleged to double the dilution (ibid.).
So, the original concept seemed to have a little bit of potential, well, to gullible sorts anyway, but good grief. Basing the entire treatment on how much and through which very specific methods it has been diluted?
Let me put this in other terms. Let’s say we start with a few drops of a plant extract. All well and good. I actually do believe that plant-based medicine and treatments can be incredibly effective. After all, much of the now so-called conventional medicine started that way. However, in Hocus-pocus-pathy, you take the plant extracts, dilute, shake, take the diluted mixture, add a few drops of that to a new batch of water and dilute, shake, take the diluted mixture, add a few drops of that…well, so on and so forth, until the final remedy has as many molecules of the original plant as you would randomly find by chance in, say, sea water. Just think about that quietly for a moment.
Various tincture-based elements are then added (alcohol, grapeseed oil, or perhaps something else to give the remedy a medicinal consistency) and abracadabra, a cure-all is ready!
Homeopathy is based on the notion that water has a memory. That its molecules can remember the presence of a substance that, for all intents and purposes is no longer there. Did I mention the word bollocks yet? What homeopathic practitioners do very effectively is provide consultative, holistic treatment to their patients, complete with such apparent (or quite possibly very sincere) care for the well-being of the patient that the experience in itself must be very healing. And I don’t dispute that. I just so wish that people weren’t being told, well, bollocks.
I wish that if a practitioner were to set up a counseling and spiritual support service, they’d just set up one of those, not a charlatan outfit designed to exploit the weak and vulnerable. Homeopathy is the Scientology of alternative therapies and I really don’t think it’s fair to charge people horrid amounts for so-called remedies and therapies when it’s all a bit of a con, really.
It’s been bugging me for some time to know that, in this country, my tax money has gone towards paying for someone’s homeopathic treatments. I would certainly let out a little whoop of delight if NHS dropped that form of alternative therapy from their list of funded services. It is none of my business if people wish to pay for this kind of stuff privately (it doesn’t harm me and I know lots of people get something very real out of it), but I don’t think it has any place whatsoever standing shoulder-to-shoulder with therapies that have been scientifically proven to be effective.