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January 07, 2008

The Sky Fell In

Part of the sky fell in over the weekend. The UK's Times newspaper ran a 2-page story (see Times OnLine ) describing how the new Natural Healthcare Council modelled along the lines of the General Medical Council, (GMC) will regulate aromatherapy, reflexology, massage, nutrition, shiaztzu, reiki, naturopathy, yoga, homeopathy, cranial osteopathy & the Alexander & Bowen techniques in the UK. Nigel Hawles, the health editor for the Times, described the move as a success for the Prince of Wales. I believe, on the other hand, that it will be an unmitigated disaster for CAM.

What is the real motivation behind this? Its all about money & control. The pharmaceutical trade has for a long time looked with envy at the £130 million per year turnover generated by Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM), which is expected to rise to £200 million within four years (Hawkes 2007) and its storm troopers have sought to kick complementary alternative medicine in the head, via adverse media coverage, at every possible opportunity. The threat posed is that the rise of complementary therapies and the popular use of natural products such as tea tree oil, ginseng, valerian etc., diverts attention from convention medicine & the potential income from conventional synthetic drug sales. Therefore any negative utterance by some academic 'expert' (who those of us within CAM have generally never heard of) knocking aromatherapy, herbal medicine, homeopathy etc. is faithfully reported by various lightweight science reporters who work for the supposedly independent quality UK newspapers such as the Guardian, the Independent or the Observer. Cropwatch has been puzzled as to why our rebuttals of the shallow, non-investigative & biased reporting has never been featured in the letters pages of these organs. We don't have to look far for an answer. Its down to sinister lobbying organisations and their many sympathisers, such as Sense About Science (hilariously described as ‘a charity’ by obedient newspaper hacks) who are thought to be indirectly financed by the pharmaceutical & chemical organisations & trades, and who exert their considerable influence in distorting media science reporting, defending GM products and. promoting an anti-environmentalist stance - for example dismissing industrial pollution effects in terms of false illness beliefs, arguing against organic food & vitamin supplements, alternative medicine and so on.. For the real low-down on Sense About Science (SAS), see the LobbyWatch website at http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=151, or Martin Walker's free downloadable E-book: Cultural Dwarfs & Junk Journalism. One of SAS's more chilling beliefs is that public discussion of scientific matters & their ethics should be discouraged and legitimate arguments trivialised or dismissed as fantasy, since the SAS view is the only valid one. The Corporate Science supporter Ben Goldacre, who runs a 'Bad Science' column in the Guardian which exercises a vendetta against various CAM professions such as homeopathy & nutrition, is under the Guardian's editorship protection, such that counterattacks to some of his nonsensical ramblings never see the light of day. Goldacre, who professes to be a mere hospital medic, whilst being quick to criticise CAM, refuses to comment on his own profession's lamentable failings (such as the abysmal statistics surrounding the failure of MD's to correctly diagnose & prescribe the appropriate treatment for a given patient's ills, the hundreds of thousands of patients who die or who's health is severely adversely affected by the unwanted side-effects of prescribed pharmaceuticals, or the hilarious but thorough reporting of an extensive study by the Union of Concerned Scientists that following a course of conventional drug treatment appears to statistically increase the chances of shortening your life, not to mention the serious chances of dying or losing limbs from hospital acquired infections!).

So why is Cropwatch opposed to the Natural Healthcare Council regulating CAM? The Nigel Hawkes article suggests regulation is needed partly because of high-profile cases where therapists have reportedly attacked clients. This argument is clearly absolute nonsense – the National Health Service has always represented much more of a risk. For example here in the UK, an inquiry started in 2000 decided that the medical practitioner Dr Harold Shipman allegedly killed up to 250 of his patients, some 218 of whom have been subsequently identified. Health care authorities subsequently carried out heavy modifications to medical practice to increase patient protection, but this move was merely 'shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted'.

As it is, regulation has all but destroyed the perfumery trade, & Cropwatch spends most of its spare time fighting the absurdities of the EU regulation outfall, and UK/Canadian/US National legislation that concerns natural aromatic & medicinal products. Within the EU in the cosmetics/essential oils sector, a bunch of Brussels lawyers with no scientific knowledge are advised by so-called 'expert' committees (themselves a bunch of academics with no trade experience) who rely on big industry to provide scientific evidence on ingredient safety & other regulatory matters. Of course big industry biases furnished safety evidence to 'expert' committees towards to their Corporate interests, and they employ and finance toxicologists to support their hyperbureaucratic policies, which are themselves so complex, that they profoundly disadvantage all of the less powerful competition with less available technical manpower resources. A similar state of affairs exists in Biocides regulation, where EU Directives are completely written around the interests of the chemical industry, making it virtually impossible cost-wise for small natural biocides with their small financial resources producers to sell their relatively safer products in Europe. It is a running open sore.

If the Natural Healthcare Council were to fully regulate all the CAM areas mentioned in the first paragraph, it would require a complete college-full of multi-disciplinary experts to administer the eleven or so areas mentioned. It will be very interesting to see who they put up to do this - we are promised eight of these regulators, who we learn elsewhere will be probably lay people under the chairmanship of Dame Joan Higgins.. What it probably would mean, is that those who passionate about CAM are going to have to spend much of their time, unpaid & unrewarded, teaching the regulators (and no doubt their “expert” advisers) how to do their job properly. If previous patterns are repeated, the regulators will make inappropriate decisions based on biased evidence proffered by those with hidden agendas, which the rest of us will have to spend years undoing. Although Cropwatch has made some unacknowledged headway in doing exactly this in other areas (cosmetics, biocides), it is extremely dispiriting the think that there is potentially much more to take on here as well.

First indications are that joining the proposed scheme will be voluntary, eventually to be obligatory. The Council will (initially) only have powers to strike off errant or incompetent therapists, or to set minimum standards for practitioners. This latter prospect is, in itself, most intriguing. Within aromatherapy, the low educational entry requirements & abysmal course standards set in UK colleges are a national joke, so setting minimum standards for practitioners will presumably be a great source of material for satirical magazines such as Private Eye. The profession is starved of finance, so no substantial evidence-based aromatherapy data-base exists as such - anything that does exist is likely to consist of published (so-called) aromatherapy studies by non-practising academics, rather than tapping the massive collective experience of everyday practitioners. Aromatherapy trade & academic magazines are owned by aromatherapists, their chums, & aromatherapy supply sellers - who profit from promoting their own businesses within the magazines.

But of course it is perfectly possible to be a fantastic massage therapist, aromatherapist etc., without having the dubious benefit of attending some badly-taught aromatherapy course and getting the duly signed piece of paper at the finish, and/or having to be obligatorily registered with and represented by some professional aromatherapy organisation or another. Perhaps this consideration should be the first lesson for the potential regulators of the National Healthcare Trust. Or perhaps, as in France, where aromatherapy has been legally designated as a 'sect' (in spite of the fact that now according to some with national pride, aromatherapy was invented in France), it may have to go underground for a while to survive. In any case the freer CAM is from regulation the better. Sure, these professions have an element of scientific content, but basically they are a folk-art, sympathetic to concepts of spirituality & energy flow, and they need to be severely left alone, and they are doing just fine from receiving no attention whatsoever, thanks, from a UK government obsessed with control. Finally, if you have any doubts about how a GMC-styled regulatory body might eventually end up in regulating the CAM profession, have a look at Martin Walkers's account (again in Cultural Dwarfs & Junk Journalism) on how the GMC and some of the major players have dealt with Dr Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield, you will remember dared to raise issues about the safety of the MMR vaccine and possible links with autism, and who is currently involved in GMC a fitness to practice hearing.

Tony Burfield.

P.S. Please pray with us that Prof. Edvard Ernst is not promoted to a position of adviser or authority within the National Healthcare Council. Ernst is a Corporate Science sympathiser who is working undercover as Director of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, & whose sole purpose seems to be to rip the soul out of CAM, armed only with a Corporate Science device called "the meta-analysis". Ernst's stature & reputation is such that it has even over-awed normally sensible Herbalgram staff who worship & reproduce his every utterance, & who apparently haven't noticed that now HE'S WORKING FOR THE OPPOSITION. Wake up!

Posted by Tony Burfield on January 7, 2008 in Aromatherapy, Politics, Regulatory Issues | Permalink


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One thing puzzles me. The alternative medicine industry is now almost as big as big pharma. So why should one assume that it is any less corrupt? All big businesses seem to get corrupt unless regulated and I don't see why CAM should be different.

And, a related point, one of my main concerns about Wakefield is that he had taken out patents on single vaccines, i.e. he was in hock to big pharma. That being the case I'm baffled by why CAM people are always so eager to support him.

Posted by: David Colquhoun | Mar 16, 2008 3:33:20 PM

I am afraid the alternative medicine brigade got a mighty shock when Ernst pronounced that many of the CAM proponent's were charlatans and snake oil salesmen.

I am a fan of herbal and natural medicines but not the homeopathy, crystal reading, remote healing brigade.

They are often just con artists. I still think there is a million dollar prize out there for anyone that can prove that homeopathic remedies are any better than the placebos given in the double blind study that proved that homeopathy is a sham.

Look at the people that are dying of Malaria because of the homeopathic remedy gave then no protection. Wake up and smell stink of greed and corruption.

Posted by: Doglistener | May 18, 2008 4:49:02 AM

A reallly interesting subject, but the small font makes it hard to read. Other than that it's great work! /Elsa

Posted by: Reiki symbols | Sep 14, 2008 7:55:34 AM

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