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The BMA has got it right on complementary therapies

The latest BMA guidance on the use of alternative and complementary medicine tackles some key issues head on, says Professor Ernst

Discussions on CAM regularly hit the headlines. Therefore it is somewhat surprising that the publication of the BMA's latest advice on CAM went almost entirely unnoticed.

Even I was unaware that the document has been released – and I am acknowledged for helping the BMA in producing it.

As most Pulse readers are BMA-members, I suggest you read the report in full. Here I merely list a few quotes which I thought were worth highlighting:

  • Doctors have a duty to safeguard public health…
  • …a situation in which anybody is free to practice, irrespective of their training or experience, is unacceptable.
  • A doctor must provide effective treatments based on the best available evidence.
  • Complementary practitioners should be regulated to the same standards expected of the medical profession.
  • Irrespective of the therapies used, whether orthodox, conventional, complementary or alternative, it is essential that patients give their fully informed consent…
  • …[patients must] not [be] led to believe the practitioner is medically qualified when they are not.
  • No practitioner should use a style or title which might be confused with that regularly and traditionally used by registered medical practitioners.
  • …acupuncture needles have caused death through puncturing vital organs…
  • Spinal manipulation is associated with several hundred cases of vertebral arterial dissection.
  • Some herbal medicine may pose a risk to human health…
  • Unlicensed Ayurvedic or traditional Chinese medicines have been found to contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic.

Of particular importance, I think, are the facts that the BMA commits us to the principles of EBM, argues against double standards, insists on informed consent, cautions about the dangers of CAM and points out that non-medically qualified CAM practitioners should not mislead the public in pretending they are doctors. All these seem rather hot potatoes! The latter point, for instance, raises the question whether it is acceptable that so many UK chiropractors now use the title doctor.

I am sure readers will want to comment.

The BMA has got it right on complementary therapies