- The booming
complementary health medicines market is
to be brought under full
regulation by the government following a damning
report to be published
next week by a parliamentary committee.
- The 18-month inquiry by the
Lords science select committee
has left peers shocked at the haphazard
standards and lack of even self-regulation.
They have also found that
the information produced on alternative medicines
is of hugely variable
quality and sometimes dangerously misleading.
- Nearly 20% of the population
use alternative or complementary
medicines, such as acupuncture,
reflexology, homeopathic dentistry, or
herbal remedies, spending more
than £500m annually in the process.
- The government is likely to set
a timetable for statutory
regulation, starting with acupuncture and
herbal medicine. The regulation
is likely to be brought in on an ad hoc
basis using the Health Act passed
- Only two therapies are at
present statutorily regulated
- osteopathy and chiropractic - but even
they have encountered difficulty
bringing all their training bodies
into one regulatory authority.
- Ministers are reluctant to provide alternative remedies
on the NHS until there is clearer evidence of their efficacy and proper
regulation. There is virtually no serious evidence-based research into
their effectiveness, largely because the big pharmaceutical companies are
unwilling to fund the research. The companies cannot patent the research
findings and therefore make a profit.
- Advocates of alternative
medicines have argued that their
individualised and holistic approach
makes it difficult to carry out traditional
scientific research, but
the committee is expected to reject this claim.
It will call on the
government to make research a priority and suggest
the industry has a
responsibility to fund research.
- The committee was told that
some therapies had as many
as 12 different associations making it
possible for a therapist, struck
off for incompetence from one
voluntary register, to carry on practising
by joining another. The only
sanction is criminal law.
- Yvette Cooper, the minister for public health, who has
used complementary medicines to combat ME, told the committee that she
was disturbed by the lack of proper regulation in the field.
- Liam Donaldson, the
chief medical officer, told the committee:
"It is important, as
the complementary professions form themselves
professional bodies, that they are also brought into
- He said the move would ensure only professional and trained
practitioners could practise. They could also be formally trained on the
limits of alternative medicines, and the need to cooperate with orthodox
- The committee will warn that some invasive techniques,
the use of acupuncture needles, need to be closely overseen.
- It will also warn
that such treatments can be dangerous
if they are seen as an
alternative to conventional medicine, so leading
patients to be
deprived of the necessary orthodox medicines.
- The committee is expected to
grade all the various therapies
into three categories according to the
usefulness and level of regulation.
It will propose the regulatory
bodies should eventually be funded and include
lay members in the same
way as the General Medical Council.
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