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Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 08:59 GMT
Lords blast alternative therapists
The Lords report covers disciplines such as acupuncture
A House of Lords report is expected to call for tougher controls on "alternative therapists" before they can practice on the NHS.

The science and technology committee report, which follows a year-long inquiry, may prompt a series of reforms from ministers.

One in five Britons now uses complementary therapies such as aromatherapy, acupuncture and homeopathy.

However, many of the 40,000 therapists who practice in the UK have weak, or non-existent regulation compared with doctors, dentists and nurses.

Virtually anyone can set themselves up as a practitioner, regardless of their training, and then practice unsupervised.

No profit

However, the government has already indicated that it intends to significantly tighten the regulation of alternative practitioners.

Although there is growing evidence that some alternative remedies appear to be effective in treating some conditions, the body of properly-organised scientific study literature is relatively tiny compared to conventional medicine.

It is hard to put together trials of complementary medicine because pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to fund research which will not yield them a profit.

A particular criticism of some therapists which the report may level is that they encourage patients with serious conditions to abandon their conventional treatments entirely in favour of complementary remedies.

The peers have also heard how literature on alternative remedies is of variable quality and sometimes misleading.

The committee is thought to want the practice of invasive techniques such as acupuncture to be more strictly supervised.

Hepatitis infection

A recent case, in which a registered doctor spread hepatitis infections by using unsterilised syringes at his alternative health clinic led to the doctor being struck off.

But this was only possible because the practitioner was also a registered doctor and could be disciplined by the General Medical Council.

However, Michael Endacott from the Institute of Complementary Medicine told the BBC there was a high level of expertise among therapists.

"Most practitioners are fully competent in what they do, they provide a first class service and it is a very safe service," he said.

The government has said it will use legislation to improve the regulation of the various types of practitioner, giving bodies the power to oversee the professions, and ban bad therapists from working.

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