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The Low-down on
Alternative Therapy
Part II

by our editor
Nelly Morrison

It's vitally important to ensure that the therapist you have chosen is adequately trained AND insured, especially if the therapy involves manipulation or any invasive therapy. Avoid any person who claims miracle cures or suggests you abandon your doctor altogether.

A few years ago it was possible to be referred to a complementary therapist by your GP as increasingly they recognised the worth of these therapies.

"But that was in the days of fund-holding practices." Says GP Sarah Riley. "Now we're limited by primary care groups who make across-the-board decisions, using 'equity of access' arguments. Some primary care groups have decided to stop alternative therapies altogether - some have elected to roll it out to everyone." Sarah sighs. "So we are not able to refer people within the NHS although some therapists will work privately within a practice and often certain ailments derive real benefit from a complementary therapy. In fact I often welcome the alternative approach."

But doesn't one form of treatment preclude the other? Back to Sue Miles.

"It is possible to use Homeopathic treatments and other alternative therapies in conjunction with conventional drugs," says Sue. "They are not mutually exclusive, but often less conventional medicine takes over when pharmaceuticals have been exhausted. As a rule, complementary therapies treat the whole person, not just the symptoms."

The rule is, when taking conventional drugs such as an oral contraceptive or heart drugs, always make sure your therapist knows so they can check. The effect of the remedy could interact with the conventional drug and may have harmful side effects.

National acceptance of alternative medicine is not far away. The long awaited White Paper from the House of Lords on Complementary therapies has recently been published and divides complementary practices into three main groups. Of all the disciplines, only five - Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy and Osteopathy - have been recommended for statutory recognition and to be regulated by the government. At the moment, only Chiropractic and Osteopathy are regulated.

The second group, such as Reiki and massage is hot on the heels of the first, but still has to achieve accepted levels of practice nation-wide. The third group, which includes healers and auricular acupuncture, for example, is still far away from government approval and has yet to achieve basic standards. Extra reasons to check and check again before embarking on alternative therapy.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Prince Charles, always at the forefront of the alternative and holistic bandwagon, is patron of the FIM - the Federation of Holistic Medicine. The Federation's mission statement is to integrate alternative therapies with conventional treatments. To do this they are pushing for leading bodies for all alternative therapies to establish basic standards in every practice and thus banish the preconception that holistic is somehow weird and ungoverned.

Their spokesperson, Margaret Pinder, says that the aim of the FIM is to 'promote integrated delivery with a focus on accessibility.'

"Although the situation is improving, it's necessary to have robust regulation. Perhaps a single registration body so that standards are transparent."

All this is aimed at better service for the patient. "At the moment the regulatory bodies are fragmented," says Margaret. 'Patients need to be sure that the practitioner is properly educated.

Another worrying factor for Margaret is the proliferation of short term, private courses. "They are not governed by very much and do not demand high academic levels." These 'Qualifications' undermine the whole industry and this is where we are seeking to bring things into line."

Her suggestions are that before you go to see anyone, ask over the telephone which professional Association they belong to, whether they are insured, where they trained and what the letters after their name mean. Then ring one of the governing bodies and make sure.

Further information:
  • Federation of Integrated Medicine - 020 7688 1881
  • British Complementary Medicine Association - 01242 519911
  • British Acupuncture Council - 020 8735 0400
  • Aromatherapy Organisations Council - 020 8251 7912
  • British Chiropractic Association - 0118 950 5950
  • Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine - 020 8375 0632
  • National Institute of Medical Herbalists - 01392 426 022
  • The Society of Homeopaths - 01604 621 400
  • Hypnotherapy Practitioners Association - 020 7820 0992
  • Osteopathic Information Service - 020 7357 6655
  • British Reflexology Association - 01886 821 207
  • Reiki Association - 01981 550 829
  • Shiatsu Society - 01788 555 051

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