Complementary therapies are a valuable adjunct to conventional medicine, argues Dr Charlotte Mendes da Costa
Mark Radcliffe’s article “If only a rub down with rose petals could cure ill health”, which was in response to researchers at Bournemouth University who suggested nurses are best placed to integrate complementary therapy into the NHS, not only highlights the inflexible and entrenched viewpoint of those opposed to complementary therapy, but also their failure to engage in serious intellectual debate on the subject.
While saying he has no wish to give the impression of rushing to judgement, he does precisely that by stating that “most clinical trials seem to suggest that not only do these interventions not work but also there are no such things as elves”. Ignoring his facetious schoolboy humour, this is the argument frequently expressed in the media and medical press - an argument that ignores the facts.
As a GP working in the NHS and a trained homeopath I believe I’m far better qualified to comment on this particular therapy and its usefulness for patients.
“I integrate homeopathy into my practice, using it when I feel it is appropriate for the patient and have seen quite remarkable results”
First, there is evidence supporting the effectiveness of homeopathy. Up to the end of 2010, 156 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in homeopathy had been carried out with 41% reporting positive effects, whereas only 7% have been negative. The remainder were non-conclusive. Furthermore, four of five major comprehensive reviews of RCTs in homeopathy have reached broadly positive conclusions. No doubt opponents of homeopathy will dispute these figures, but then again these self-appointed arbiters of what is correct clinical practice will dispute any research evidence supporting homeopathy and other complementary therapies.
Mr Radcliffe does concede the popularity of complementary therapy, but then fails to examine the reasons for this popularity. The public are drawn to therapies such as homeopathy because they have found that they work. And after all, people are not stupid; if something is ineffective it quickly loses the public’s endorsement. Patient satisfaction - something all healthcare professionals should be seeking to achieve - is consistently high in surveys carried out at the NHS homeopathic hospitals in London, Bristol and Glasgow.
I integrate homeopathy into my practice, using it when I feel it is appropriate for the patient and have seen quite remarkable results. I have no doubt complementary therapies are a valuable adjunct to conventional medicine and that the people best placed to integrate these therapies into mainstream healthcare are nurses.
Nurses trained in the benefits and appropriateness of different complementary interventions would be able to inform patients of the most suitable therapy for their conditions, be it homeopathy, herbal medicine, reflexology or acupuncture. Just as importantly they would be able to advise patients when complementary therapy is not the best form of treatment and that conventional therapy should be used.
In Europe complementary therapy is even more popular than it is here in the UK and has been incorporated into the health systems of France, Germany and Italy. And while this modern approach to healthcare is anathema to those who have never trained in complementary therapy, let alone used one to treat patients, interest among healthcare professionals is growing.
The benefits that complementary therapy can bring to the health service need to be discussed. Sadly, in using heavy sarcasm to scornfully dismiss complementary therapies Mr Radcliffe misses the opportunity to encourage such a discussion.
Dr Charlotte Mendes da Costa is a GP in Chiswick, west London