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scientists respond to report on complementary medicine commissioned by Prince Charles

As a report into complementary medicine commissioned by Prince Charles was released, we put up scientists to comment on the science behind it.

Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine, Exeter Univesity, said:

“I am very pleased that, due to the intervention of several critical thinkers, this report seems to have been changed considerably. We now seem to all agree that NICE should evaluate this area according to their rigorous standard. Of course, we should use those complementary therapies which are backed up by good evidence. The uncritical integration of unproven treatments, however, would only establish double standards and turn out to be detrimental to all concerned, not least the patient.”

Dr George Lewith, Complementary Medicine Research Unit, School of Medicine, Southampton University, said:

“It is irresponsible for the BBC to run this story when it is apparent that they are not releasing the report prior to the debate and the people they have commenting on it also do not seem to have read it. It is inappropriate to release a report for public debate without prior embargoed reports being made available to experts. If there are recommendations that money is spent from the public purse on complementary medicines there should be informed open debate on the matter based on good evidence and rigorous science.”

Professor John Garrow MD, PhD, FRCP, Chairman, HealthWatch, said:

“The Press Release says that they recommend that research should be made available to test the cost-effectiveness and safety of CAM therapies. This is rich indeed! Substantial money was made available for just this purpose in response to the House of Lords advice, but it was not used to test CAM therapies, but to train more CAM therapists. I am disgusted by the dishonest way in which the authors of this report have behaved.

“In the case of the Smallwood report the embargo system has been abused. I am writing this at 1300h on the day the report was published, embargoed to 1130 this morning! I have tried to download the report from the Freshminds website, but it is 194 pages long, and will take a long time to download. I think it is disgraceful that a report of great importance to the NHS should be kept secret until the moment before publication, presumably so there can be no informed criticism of it in the media.

“I learned from the Today programme this morning that Mr Smallwood’s investigations make him believe that the availability of CAM on the NHS would be very cost-effective. It is not that he says it would cost the NHS less money, but the extra expense would be small compared with the savings from reduced invalidity from conditions such as back pain and depression. The therapies he studied were manipulation, acupuncture, homoeopathy and herbal medicine.

“This would be very good news, if it is true. However I object very strongly to the way in which the report has been “released” to medical journalists, or other scientists or health professionals. It is common practice among medical journals (eg Lancet, BMJ) to release embargoed text of their journals several days before publication, so the journalists have an opportunity to assess the validity of claims made in the publication.”

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