Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The NHS directory of absolute nuttiness, sorry, 'alternative therapies'.

Oh boy!  One of my fellow sceptics pointed me in the direction of this list of alternative medicine practitioners on an NHS trust website!  As if it wasn't bad enough that they were spending £4m per year on homeopathy, this list legitimises some pretty mental practices, a few of which I've never even heard of.  Let me give you a couple of examples:

Bowen Therapy

Developed in the 1950’s in Australia by Tom Bowen, Bowen therapy is a gentle, relaxing, holistic and non-invasive energy vibrational therapy that operates on the muscle, nerve and connective tissue systems.

Non-invasive energy vibrational therapy?  That doesn't even make sense!  It's just a jumble of woo-woo buzz words strung together into some incoherent non-sentance!

Thought Field Therapy

TFT has also undergone considerable “field testing” in the most challenging of situations. In October 2001, for example, Dr. Shkelzen Syla, Chief of Staff with authority over all medical decisions in Kosova, officially adopted TFT as the treatment of choice for those with PTSD in the region. This followed a 100% successful supervised clinical trial.

It is important to state that the procedures do not work on everyone nor for every problem. However, research has indicated that in excess of 75% of individuals undergoing TFT can expect to obtain the enduring resolution they seek.

Brilliant! Works 75% of the time, EVERY TIME! Poor old Kosovo, as if they haven't had enough to worry about.  I not that there are no links to the trials, oh well.


The 'science of life', Ayurveda, is firmly embedded in Indian philosophy and its theory of evolution, according to which the universe is composed of five basic elements, namely: ether, air, fire, water and earth. These are present in all things, and in the human body they manifest as doshas.     

So has nobody told them that Aristotle was wrong?


Developed by the Japanese over 2000 years ago from the medical practices that originated in China, shiatsu is designed to promote the free flow of the vital energy known as Ki through the meridians of the body. 

Shiaaat.. the free flow of vital energy.  That old chestnut.  And people struggle to understand these things as cultural artifacts from ignorant times?  Seriously, scientists used to be cookoo too back in the 17th century... if any of the pre-modern belief system were true, they would have discovered it!

Unfortunately, 'flower therapy' doesn't have any description, but I'm guessing it's this, from Wikipedia:  Bach flower remedies are dilutions of flower material developed by Edward Bach, an English physician and homeopath (surprise surprise)

Anyhow, I thought an email was required to clear up some questions so I shot this off to

Dear Sir/Madam,

Regarding your
NHS Directory of Complementary and Alternative Practitioners.  I was writing to confirm that none of my tax money is being spent on 'Thought Field Therapy' or 'Flower Therapy' or 'Dowsing'!?  Sorry, but that last one, isn't that trying to find water with a stick?

Why are you giving legitimacy to such nonsense under the trusted NHS name?  Do you have any criteria at all that would make you think twice before legitimising a practice with a place on your website?  Seriously, could I come up with absolutely anything, make a website and drop you an email and you would put it up there on your list of practitioners?

People who need therapy are often the most vulnerable people in society.  You should not be giving legitimacy to anybody who has an active imagination and no scientific grasp of reality, no matter how well-intentioned they are.  For one, it may stop people seeking help that will actually do some good.  Secondly, it is immoral to present something as beneficial when it is no better than placebo (if you can find studies that are controlled and double-blinded for any of these I would be more than happy to include that in my blog...).  Thirdly, by legitimising such practices you perpetuate the unhelpful dichotomy of belief vs science and leave people vulnerable to other, less well-intentioned people who use the same language and concepts but for no reason other than scamming people out of money.

They are all scams.  That many people belief in them and are well intentioned is beside the point.  Please assure me that no tax payers money is being spent on this nonsense.
  If you would like to respond to my blog, I would welcome your comments at

All the best,


As ever, I'll keep you posted on any reply.


I have had a reply from the admin for the NHS directory.  Thankfully no public money has been spent on compiling the directory, although worryingly it is designed as a directory for those willing to work with the NHS in the future, should GP's make that decision.  Given that there are more than a couple of GP's who believe in the effects of Homeopathy that isn't terribly reassuring.  What is more worrying is that this directory was compiled in response to the findings of the House of Lords scientific and technical committee.  I am presuming therefore that either the committee wasn't very scietific, or else the NHS Trust Association ignored it's findings and helped facilitate the possible cooperation of services deemed pointless by the committee.

Here is the reply in full:

Dear Mr. King,

We refer to your email of the 10th November regarding the above.

The Directory was published in response to the findings of the House of Lords scientific and technical committee, which published a report on complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) in 2000 and how such therapies might be provided by the NHS. The therapies included are based on those referred to in the House of Lords Report, which included flower therapy and dowsing.  Information regarding the therapies is provided by those organisations which represent the individual therapies in question.  The Directory is intended to provide information to healthcare professionals on practitioners that have a particular commitment to working with the NHS should they be asked to do so.  The decision to provide CAM via the NHS remains a matter for the clinical judgement of individual patients GP's.  

Please note that the NHSTA does not receive any public money whatsoever and not a single penny of tax payers money has been spent in the production of this Directory.
Yours sincerely,

NHSTA Admin Department

Annoyingly, the report is only viewable if you subscribe to a journal (damn it!) which stops me from checking their conclusion myself.  So, given the conundrum highlighted above, I have replied thus:

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I have a question that is bugging me.  You say that the directory is in response to the findings of the House of Lords scientific and technical committeeI assume therefore that the inclusion of these therapies, mentioned as they are in the committees report, means that the committee did not discuss the efficacy or evidence for these therapies as part of the report?

I am presuming that either the committee wasn't very scientific in it's aims and methods, or else the NHS Trust Association ignored it's findings and helped facilitate the possible cooperation of services deemed pointless and inefficable by the committee?  I would be grateful if you could comment on this.

I find it worrying that this directory is available for GP's guidance.  Just because someone is willing to cooperate with the NHS doesn't mean we should let them.  GP's are human too, as the minority support for homeopathy shows. 

Yours sincerely

Ben King


Sarah said...

Hmmm - Bowen Therapy sounds to me rather like 'having a nice back rub'. Shiatsu massage is certainly having a (rather energetic) back rub. I'm sure they would make you feel better if your problem is a sore back, although if you have an actual spinal problem they might also make you much, much worse - I hope the therapists are trained to spot risk factors - or if you're stressed, or have a stress headache, or something like that. But it's interesting the reply cites the 2000 House of Lords report, as I believed it had been overturned by a later report which established that these therapies were not well founded and not worth the money. Hmm, maybe the news has not got through.

Ben King said...

Thanks to Tara Dixon for providing this link of that 2000 report:

Does anyone have any info on the possible later report that Sarah mentions? Will update the blog again when I've given it a good read. Thanks Tara.