Complementary and Alternative Medicines

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 14 October 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Conservative, Bosworth 7:15, 14 October 2009

I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House on this important issue and I am glad to see the Minister in her place this evening. I wish to consider the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee's report on complementary medicine 10 years on. I shall cover three points: regulation, how we can widen the number of therapies available in the NHS, and the case for more research.

The Committee first met in 1999 and its report states in section 5.53:

"The Osteopathic and Chiropractic professions are now regulated by law. It is our opinion that acupuncture and herbal medicine are the two therapies"- which at this stage would most benefit from regulation. I shall start by considering the position of osteopathy and then of herbal medicine.

The Osteopaths Act 1993, mentioned in the report, has been a huge success, but there is a postcode lottery at work. Only 16 per cent. of primary care trusts allow GPs to refer patients to osteopaths on the NHS and an additional 25 per cent. allow GPs to refer patients in exceptional cases. That is wrong, and I ask the Minister to address the problem. Where osteopathy is used in the NHS, its use increases year on year, suggesting patient and GP satisfaction, so the barrier is in the approach of the primary care trusts.

The Minister will be aware that the report from the Department of Health steering group on the regulation of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine was published on 16 June. This followed the work done by Professor Pittilo and the late Lord Chan on herbal medicine and Chinese medicine respectively. The report recommended that in the interests of public health and patient safety all practitioners should be required to attain high standards of competence through the Health Professions Council as soon as practicable.

The Government responded by launching a consultation that will seek views on whether a regulatory system should be established. What is the position of that consultation? I suspect that it has been pushed gently into the long grass. The regulation of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and herbal medicine has been a long and arduous process on which many people have worked-I have met many of them-and we need to know whether the Government are still committed to the process. What is the likely timetable? If nothing happens, we will soon be in the ludicrous situation of the herbal medicinal products directive coming into force in 2011 without appropriately regulated practitioners.

Another issue that we need to address this evening is homeopathy. Section 5.50 of the report says that therapies should be able to seek statutory regulation, and homeopathy is the one therapy in group 1 in the report-the Minister will remember that there are different classifications-that is not statutorily regulated. I am informed by the Society of Homeopaths, which is the largest organisation representing non-medical homeopaths, that there is a move towards statutory regulation through the Health Professions Council. Will the Government look favourably on that application?

Homeopathy has had a long tradition in the health service; it was actually used by Aneurin Bevan-all those years ago-who helped to put it in the health service. However, homeopathy has been under attack, despite the new Royal London Homeopathic hospital. The hospital and those who support homeopathy have faced difficult times, not least the attacks by the so-called scientific establishment and a letter that purported to come from the NHS-it had the NHS logo on it-in May 2007 which was signed by many retired professors of medicine. That letter should never have been sent out under the NHS letterhead.

Attacks have also been made on the efficacy of homeopathy. A letter was sent to the World Health Organisation warning against the use of homeopathy, but it ignored the very clear randomised, double-blind trials that proved that it is effective in the particular area of childhood diarrhoea on which it was criticised. Will the Government therefore be robust in their support for homeopathy and consider what can be done so that it is used more effectively in the health service?

There are also serious problems in chiropractic, which one might call an assisted discipline to osteopathy. The General Chiropractic Council has been bombarded by complaints from bloggers-spurious complaints I would say-which it is obliged by law to investigate. I am very concerned that genuine complaints will not get through and that any practitioner against whom a genuine complaint had been lodged could continue to practise. Will the Minister look at this very unsatisfactory situation, which arose following an individual losing a court case against the British Chiropractic Association?

I would like the scope of complementary and alternative medicine to be widened. Way back in 2001, when I spoke on this subject, I quoted a Minister as saying in Committee that:

"Services that were considered outlandish several years ago are now almost considered to be part of conventional health care".-[ Official Report, Standing Committee G, 6 June 2000; c. 81.]

That was in 2001. Now we have a situation in which we can move on even further. The Government have done well with the guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence that allow for osteopathy and chiropractic for lower back pain. That is definitely a step in the right direction. It has come about only because of the rigorous research carried out, resulting in acupuncture and, as I said, osteopathy and chiropractic being made available.

We now need to bring in other therapies and to ensure that they are made available. That can be done in different ways. The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council has been set up to regulate some therapies, such as massage therapy, nutritional therapy, reflexology and aromatherapy. However, the numbers are less than expected. Can the Minister help in any way by publicising the benefits of this council to those who might join it?

The Science and Technology Committee reported in four sections. I shall not go through all the different categories, but all those listed-I have reviewed them all-have some validity.

Before turning to research, I want to focus on ethnic treatments, which are used by many people in this country. I am thinking of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. I want to look at how they are part of those cultures and at how those cultures look at the sky as part of their medical disciplines. Chinese medicine is closely aligned to feng shui, which is popular in this country and has a sub-discipline called "right directions", and it relies on Chinese astronomy and astrology. I was on the last parliamentary delegation to Hong Kong before we gave it back to the Chinese, where I met Chris Patten's Chinese astronomer and astrologer-it was important to the Chinese that he should have one. Ayurvedic medicine also has a long tradition of looking at astronomical and astrological factors, and Lahiri is the official astrological system of the Indian Government.

In 2001 I raised in the House the influence of the moon, on the basis of the evidence then that at certain phases of the moon there are more accidents. Surgeons will not operate because blood clotting is not effective and the police have to put more people on the street.

I am arguing for more research. I have been criticised for raising the subject, but the criticism is generally based on a misunderstanding. It is based on the idea that I am talking about the stuff that we see in the newspapers about star sign astrology, but I am not. I am talking about a long-standing discipline-an art and a science-that has been with us since ancient Egyptian, Roman, Babylonian and Assyrian times. It is part of the Chinese, Muslim and Hindu cultures. Criticism is deeply offensive to those cultures, and I have a Muslim college in my constituency.

The opposition is based on what I call the SIP formula-superstition, ignorance and prejudice. It tends to be based on superstition, with scientists reacting emotionally, which is always a great irony. They are also ignorant, because they never study the subject and just say that it is all to do with what appears in the newspapers, which it is not, and they are deeply prejudiced, and racially prejudiced too, which is troubling.

Over the past few years I have looked at the issue in detail, as well as at the impact of astronomy and astrology on western herbalism, as taught by Culpeper, whose book "Culpeper's Complete Herbal" has been in print longer than any other book in this country besides the Bible. There are now people who teach, such as Jane Ridder-Patrick, who published "A Handbook of Medical Astrology". They look at aspects of the subject and how it affects people's health. Whatever one believes personally, the issue is one that we should look into and consider. We must get away from this awful, mediaeval superstition.

Finally, I want to appeal to the Minister to fund a little more research. Research into complementary medicine is usually done with individuals, but I am seeking perhaps £5 million and for the research to be placed with the King's Fund, or perhaps another body, for use in universities. It takes about £125,000 to fund a trial. At the moment we just do not know how effective some complementary medicines are in surgeries where different therapies are used. The Government have helped and some useful steps have been taken, but if we are really going to understand the best way of using such therapies, which are increasingly popular, we need more research. I appeal to the genial nature and the good judgment of the Minister to help in this way.


Alex Hudson
Posted on 16 Oct 2009 10:51 am (Report this annotation)

You can read more about the effects of the Moon at Essentially, Mr Tredinnick's claims about the police and health service are folklore and superstition - surgeons do operate during full moons thankfully. (otherwise, who would treat all those extra accidents! ^_^)

Richard Wilson
Posted on 23 Oct 2009 2:46 pm (Report this annotation)

David Tredinnick asserts that the GCC has been bombarded with "spurious" complaints from bloggers about UK chiropractors.

What Tredinnick chooses not to mention here is that many of these bloggers’ complaints related to chiropractors claiming to be able to treat asthma and/or infant colic using spinal manipulation.

In fact, there is no reliable scientific evidence that chiropractic can alleviate these ailments, and this is why, thanks to the extraordinarily effective work of the blogger Simon Perry (, a great many chiropractors have now had to amend their websites to remove any such claims.

David Tredinnick’s assertion that these complaints were ‘spurious’ seems badly undermined by the fact that so many of them have upheld, and addressed.

Tony Williams
Posted on 26 Oct 2009 2:20 pm (Report this annotation)

David Tredinnick states that the letter sent to the WHO ignores "very clear randomised, double-blind trials that proved that it (homeopathy) is effective in the particular area of childhood diarrhoea on which it was criticised". This is, in fact, incorrect. The latest high quality clinic trials show that homeopathy is an ineffective treatment for every condition that has so far been tested. If he wants a summary of the work in this area I suggest that he gets the latest information from the Cochrane Collaboration or if this is a little technical for him that he read "Trick or Treatment" by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst (professor of complementary medicine, Peninsula Medical School).

Ali Bridge
Posted on 2 Nov 2009 8:25 pm (Report this annotation)

I am new to this site but got directed via Ben Goldacre's excellent bad science website. Being a science teacher and currently reading Goldacre's book 'Bad Science' I am astounded that Parliamentary time is given over to debate such issues. Surely the weight of evidence against homeopathic medicine is overwhelming and it is an open and shut case. I would be concerned if David Tredinnick was my MP spending his time on obviously personal and frivolous issues- and i thought I might Tory, oh dear!