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Friday, October 30, 1998 Published at 01:40 GMT


Complementary medicine needs tighter control

Acupuncture: one of the complementary medicines

Complementary medicine experts have called for tighter regulation of the field in a bid to combat scepticism from conventional science.

BBC Health Correspondent James Westhead: "Minimum of medical knowledge"
The European Commission will publish a report on Friday on the future of complementary or alternative medicine, following a pan-European study lasting five years.

Complementary medicines include acupuncture, homoeopathy, aromatherapy, osteopathy, reflexology and chiropractic. At present, most practitioners are not regulated.

The report highlights the need for more research to establish the benefits of complementary medicine and for new therapies to be subject to appraisal by ethical committees prior to being made generally available.

'Claims are often exaggerated'

James Westhead reports on the EC findings
It says: "Research evidence in unconventional medicine is still scarce. While recognising that more research is now being carried out each year, claims made in this field are often anecdotal, exaggerated or unsubstantiated.

"National and international agencies should do all they can to ensure that the unconventional medical treatment people receive is safe and effective."

[ image: European Commission: published report]
European Commission: published report
The European Commission also calls for unconventional therapists to have a "defined minimum European standard of medical knowledge" so they are able to discuss conventional medicine options with patients.

The report says: "Unconventional medicine practitioners should be subject to the same or similar codes of conduct, discipline and accountability as other medical practitioners."

The report recommends the creation of a European office to recommend guidelines for research and to develop a system of registration for practitioners.

Jonathan Monckton, director of the Research Council for Complementary Medicine, said a pan-European strategy was needed to promote complementary medicine.

'Thousands successfully treated'

Jonathan Monckton: 'Complementary medicine has a role'
He said the lack of scientific validation of the techniques was contradicted by the positive experience of thousands of people who had been successfully treated by complementary therapy.

"We need imaginative research and imaginative government perspectives on how best to protect the interests of the patients and at the same time build bridges between what is essentially traditional medicine going back centuries past and conventional medicine," said Mr Monckton.

He said: "Complementary medicine is vitally important. Fifty years ago one only went to a doctor when one did not get better, now people go to a doctor when they feel unwell.

"But when people are feeling unwell that is the appropriate time to see someone in complementary medicine - conventional therapy should kick in when one does not get better."

One in three of the UK population is estimated to have seen a complementary therapist in the last year. There are 20,000 to 40,000 complementary therapy practitioners in the UK, compared with 31,000 GPs.

'No credibility'

Dr Peter May: 'Complementary medicine is not credible'
Southampton GP Dr Peter May dismissed attempts to regulate complementary medicine.

He said: "I feel in training people and having professional standards for them and accreditation they are merely dressing up something that is essentially naked.

"The real issue is whether what they are doing is effective. If is was effective and they really had got the data to show it, we would all be doing it.

"Medicine is a pragmatic business, we go for the things that work, but we are not going for complementary medicine because they have not got the data."

Dr May admitted that some of his patients went regularly for chiropractic treatment.

"It is not their spine that is being manipulated, but their bank balance to no useful purpose at all," he said.

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