There has been much debate over the public use of CAM in recent years, with many experts questioning the effectiveness and safety of some alternative therapies and medicines on offer.
In 2006, thirteen eminent doctors wrote to every NHS trust in the country, urging them to stop funding ‘bogus’, ‘unproven treatments’. Pumping money into treatments like massage, homeopathy and reflexology was, they wrote, unacceptable in light of widespread staff cuts and ward closures.
However, not everybody agreed. Speaking at the World Health Assembly in Geneva the same year, the Prince of Wales said it would be a mistake to dismiss traditional healthcare so readily.
“The proper mix of proven complementary, traditional and modern remedies can help create a powerful healing force in the world,” the Prince said.
Other experts pointed out that most antibiotics used in Western healthcare are, like most types of CAM, based on anecdotal evidence rather than actual clinical trials. What matters is whether the treatment works for the individual – not how much data has been gathered about said treatment. These experts claimed that treatment should be based on what kind of patient has the disease, not what kind of disease the patient has.
Recent statistics show public demand is high for CAM, with one in five people in the UK spending money on private treatments for a range of ailments. According to our survey, people most commonly seek CAM for relaxation, back-pain and mental health conditions. The three most popular types of CAM used by survey respondents are massage, reflexology and aromatherapy.
As for the effectiveness of CAM, 11% of respondents said their problem went away completely, while 44% said their problem was reduced. Just over a fifth (22%) of respondents said that while CAM did not cure their problem, they still found the experience enjoyable.
With such promising results, it is no wonder 92% of Therapy Directory respondents said they’d like to see CAM made more readily available on the NHS and, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, it’s not just the public who think this.
A significant 85% of medical students and 76% of GPs agree that the government should invest more money in CAM.
Respondents said free CAM would open up effective treatment to those who can’t normally afford private healthcare.
Others said it would boost the profile of some treatments and erase common misconceptions about CAM.
A number of people said CAM can effectively step in wherever Western healthcare comes up short – 30.4% of respondents said they chose CAM because orthodox medicine didn’t work for them, while 7.4% said they chose it because NHS waiting lists were too long.
Western doctors tend to treat patients symptom by symptom but restrictions – namely time and money – prevent them from assessing each person as a whole. In contrast, most CAM practitioners incorporate a holistic approach into their practice by looking at the history, outlook and lifestyle of each patient. Because many illnesses are caused by poor nutrition, inactivity and negative thoughts and behaviours, a more holistic approach to healthcare could prevent illness and even save money for the NHS in the long run.
While interest in CAM continues to rise in the UK, the NHS remains reluctant to fully integrate it into the healthcare system due to concerns over regulation, effectiveness and of course cost. Access to free CAM is currently a postcode lottery and only a select few therapies are available for particular conditions. However, a wide variety of complementary and alternative therapies, including massage, reflexology and aromatherapy, are available privately through qualified practitioners registered with professional bodies.