Unfortunately, last week’s column of acupuncture seems to have upset a few people.
On the one hand, those who believe in acupuncture have accused me of being unfair to complementary medicine. At the other end of the scale, alternative medicine sceptics have said I am too interested in what acupuncture has to offer.
In order to solve this long-running debate once and for all, I’d like to see a new trial comparing three groups of treatment intervention for lower back pain.
One group would have standard NHS care, of the time-pressed variety we are all familiar with. The second group would be given acupuncture, or rather “sham” acupuncture (for those who have not read last week’s column, this involves toothpicks, cotton wool and the illusion that acupuncture is taking place). A third group would have all the aspects of care of the second – sympathetic and understanding treatment, longer appointment times, continuity of care etc – but no acupuncture. Then let’s see how they match up.
In other words, I want to know about the role of the ’caring effect’. We already know that the care of doctors and health professionals is extremely important to patients, and forms an important part of treatment. I suspect that at least part of what acupuncture has to offer is related to the idea of having your problem treated in a caring and understanding way.
In my view, it is vital we recognise these caring effects and make use of them. It seems to me that the NHS measures many things – but not this.
It would be truly sad if the only people taking the nation of care seriously were those working in the alternative medicine industry. I suspect that many NHS doctors entered the vocation wanting to care for thier patients but ended up doing things largely dictated by targets. And these do not always serve the patients best.