Thursday, October 06, 2005

Snake oil for the many, not the few

From the BBC:

Complementary therapies should be given a greater role in the NHS, a report commissioned by the Prince of Wales is set to say.

The report, by economist Christopher Smallwood, will say patients with conditions such as back pain and stress can benefit from some of the therapies.

However, there is a shortage of treatments such as acupuncture and osteopathy in poor areas, it will say.

Prince Charles, an enthusiast for alternative medicine, commissioned the independent economist to compile the report nine months ago...

Poor old Prince Charles. If there is a prize buffoon anywhere in the world, Charles is that prize buffoon.

There is no such thing as 'alternative medicine'.

There is medicine that works, and medicine that doesn’t work.

Or to put it another way, there is medicine and there is quackery.

There’s nothing secretive or elitist about what counts as medicine: if it can be shown to work in a properly conducted double-blind test, literally anything is allowed in. And then it is no longer ‘alternative’.

If it can’t, it should have nothing to do with the NHS. Anecdotes are not tests.


martpol said...

I'm no advocate of 'alternative' medicine - as soon as I get a cold, I take all the drugs I can get (sadly, liquid morphine is unavailable over the counter). I also find myself spluttering in disbelief at women who want to give birth 'the natural way' (i.e. without painkillers, laughing gas, heroin etc.).

Nonetheless, there probably is something in 'alternative': isn't the difference that these remedies tend to provide an alternative way of relieving symptoms, rather than actually curing the illness/problem. Or is this nonsense?

Brit said...

But if it works to reduce the symptoms, like paracetamol reduces cold symptoms, wouldn't it just be medicine?

Unless of course, it doesn't really work, in which case it would be "alternative" medicine.

The definition of 'alternative' medicine seems to be: has anecdotal evidence for working, but hasn't passed any stringent tests.

I'm not opposed to alternative medicine per se. If people want to buy it, they should be allowed to, so long as there are no outlandish claims made by the sellers.

But I would object to NHS money being spent on cures based solely on anecdotal evidence.