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Academics and NHS Alliance clash over complementary medicine

By Nigel Praities

The NHS Alliance has been embroiled in a furious row over its stance on complementary medicines, after being attacked by leading academics for giving out ‘misleading information'.

A strongly worded letter sent to Pulse by Professor Edzard Ernst claimed the NHS Alliance was potentially breaching GMC guidance by making ‘misleading or incorrect' statements on complementary medicines.

Dr Michael Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance, strongly rejected the claims. He said they were part of a concerted campaign to force him out of his post at the alliance and also to discredit his work as medical director of the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health.

Professor Ernst's three-page letter – described as ‘graceless and predictable' by Dr Dixon – accused the NHS Alliance of becoming ‘a lobby group for alternative medicine'.

It was in response to an opinion piece in this week's Pulse, in which Dr Dixon hailed the benefits of complementary medicine.

Professor Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, told Pulse the NHS Alliance dealt with public funds and had a duty to evaluate evidence fairly.

‘They are an important organisation and have a responsibility to have a balanced view. What I have seen on their website is disturbingly devoid of any critical evaluation.

‘There is more than one side to it and the evidence does not seem to be on the side they are presenting. It is dangerously one-sided,' he said.

Professor David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London and another leading critic of complementary medicine, accused the alliance of being a lobby group. ‘I am sure it is well intentioned but it is very deceptive. [Lobbying] for alternative medicine is its main purpose.'

Dr Dixon, a GP in Cullompton, Devon, and an honorary fellow at Exeter University, dismissed the criticisms. He said: ‘The problem is that in many areas of general practice there is a lack of good evidence and we simply have to do the best we can.

‘It seems reasonable in such circumstances to offer patients a choice of conventional and complementary therapies where safe and appropriate.

‘As a commentator who has never practised general practice in this country, Professor Ernst should stop lobbing grenades and telling us how to do our job,' he said.

The NHS Alliance have become embrolied in a furious row over homeopathy The NHS Alliance have become embrolied in a furious row over homeopathy War of words

Professor Edzard Ernst, Peninsula Medical School
‘They are misleading to the degree of being irresponsible. If I was a GP or a PCT manager and my sole source of information was the NHS Alliance I would get a picture that would not be the truth about complementary medicine.'

Dr Michael Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance
‘This boring rant is graceless and predictable. The NHS Alliance has members who are for and against complementary medicine, but it is not actually a big issue.'

Dr Mike Dixon: said he was the target of a campaign to force him out of his NHS Alliance role Dr Mike Dixon: Professor Edzard Ernst: NHS Alliance guilty of putting out misleading information on complementary medicine Professor Edzard Ernst

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