London: The UK Government has been urged not to waste money on complementary medicine.
A body of top doctors say that spending on these “unproven or disproved treatments” should stop and the money spent on life-saving drugs instead.
Their campaign is launched to coincide with a speech being made by the Prince of Wales in support of such therapies in Geneva today.
The 13 scientists, who include some of the most eminent names in British medicine, have written to the chief executives of all 476 acute and primary care trusts to demand that only evidence-based therapies are provided free to patients.
Their letter, which was sent to The Times newspaper, has been sent as the Prince today steps up his efforts for increased provision of alternative treatments with a controversial speech to the World Health Organisation assembly in Geneva.
The letter criticises two of his flagship initiatives on complementary medicine: a government-funded patient guide prepared by his Foundation for Integrated Medicine, and the Smallwood report last year, which he commissioned to make a financial case for increasing NHS provision.
Both documents, it is claimed, give misleading information about scientific support for therapies such as homoeo-pathy, described as “an implausible treatment for which over a dozen systematic reviews have failed to produce convincing evidence of effectiveness”.
The letter’s signatories include Sir James Black, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988, and Sir Keith Peters, president of the Academy of Medical Science, which represents Britain’s leading clinical researchers.
It was organised by Michael Baum, Emeritus Professor of Surgery at University College London, and other supporters include six Fellows of the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of science, and Professor Edzard Ernst, of the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, who holds the UK’s first chair in complementary medicine.
The doctors ask trust chief executives to review their policies so that patients are given accurate information, and not to waste scarce resources on therapies that have not been shown to work by rigorous clinical trials.
They conclude: “At a time when the NHS is under intense pressure, patients, the public and the NHS are best served by using the available funds for treatments that are based on solid evidence.”
Professor Baum, a cancer specialist, said that he had organised the letter because of his “utter despair” at growing NHS acceptance of alternative treatments while drugs of proven effectiveness are being withheld. “At a time when we are struggling to gain access for our patients to Herceptin, which is absolutely proven to extend survival in breast cancer, I find it appalling that the NHS should be funding a therapy like homoeopathy that is utterly bogus,” he said.
He said that he was happy for the NHS to offer the treatments once research has proven them effective, such as acupuncture for pain relief, but that very few had reached the required standards.
“If people want to spend their own money on it, fine, but it shouldn’t be NHS money.”
The Department of Health does not keep figures on the total NHS spending on alternative medicine, but Britain’s total market is estimated at Pounds 1.6 billion.