Thursday, 1 April 2010

Wierd or Wonderful?

I've never liked the word 'Quack'. It's a word used by conventional doctors to describe those with alternative views on health and healing and I've always felt it to be steeped in smug superiority. Instead, I have tried to be fairly open minded when it comes to alternative medicine. I will happily support those patients of mine who seek to gain relief from acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, reflexology and the like. I can't say that I actively encourage it, but I certainly accept it. This week however, my tolerance has been pushed to the limit. Now I too have taken to using the Q word.

First there was Jonathan, who appeared in a desperate state after three weeks worth of homeopathic medication had failed to clear the pus oozing from his tonsils. Is it not irresponsible to encourage someone to believe that a watered down potion, with no evidence to support it, could cure a condition that a GP would throw 10 whole days of a strong penicillin at? What's wrong with penicillin anyway? Surely it's about as natural as it gets?

Then came 4 week old baby James, a healthy looking boy suffering from a touch of colic. Nothing particularly unusual there. His mother, however, had visited a cranial osteopath to find a solution to his woes. The osteopath had explained that his suffering was being caused by damage done to his spine during labour and subsequent squashing of his gut. For a healthy sum however, the problem could of course be fixed. It took me a whole consultation to persuade this now terrified mother that James did not need x rays of his spine to look for this devastating damage.

Lastly, and most fantastical of all, came my introduction to the art of psychic healing. Melanie presented requesting an MRI of her spine, following the revelation by her psychic healer that she had two slipped discs. A full physical examination of her back and neurological testing of her legs revealed no pain, no abnormal neurology and absolutely no evidence of any back problems whatsoever. It took me 15 minutes of NHS time to persuade her that an MRI was unnecessary, that she had no back problems and that psychic healers might not always get it right. The truly frustrating thing about this story is that Melanie is determined to continue to see this expensive healer. She is vulnerable, not long out of rehab for extensive drug addictions, and in my view is being preyed upon in a wholly unethical manner.

There's a fine line between trying alternatives, and being conned. I'm a firm believer in the principle that 'anything that helps is good', but given the large amounts of cash involved, my great concern is that not all practitioners are as honourable as we would hope.

So are GP's any different? Well, if there's one thing to be said about the NHS as it stands at the moment, it's that you can be absolutely sure that your doctor is committed to your health. What other incentive is there? Yes, GP's get paid for hitting targets, but these targets are generated to improve health care and thus also benefit patients. Sadly it may not always be so. With the current trend to privatise NHS primary care services, GP's may soon be added to the list of practitioners who just might be more interested in your money than your health. Perhaps I am being overly pessimistic, but I can think of plenty of examples to suggest that when there's money to be made, ethics tend to come second to profits.


  1. An interesting debating point is whether these "alternative practitionions" know that they are conning people or do they genuinely believe in all of it? Where do you think the majority lie?

    Antway the answer is better education at school with regards to science education and what consitutes evidence

  2. Have you had "systemic candidasis" yet?

    Holy cow. Tried to explain to that person that if candida was in her blood she'd be dead.

    I haven't seen her again so I think she went to another practice - so obviously I failed.

  3. So are GP's any different?

    What about all those GPs who continue to prescribe SSRIs like Smarties, when the evidence is clear that they don't work for mild/moderate depression?

    Would "better education at school with regards to science education and what consitutes [sic] evidence," work for GPs too?