“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.” ― Christopher Hitchens
Below is an open letter I am planning to send to both the Cllr Wayne Crabbe and The Swindon Advertiser. I am perfectly happy to send the letter as it is now, however I am curious as to whether the SSH would like to back this letter and whether it would be appropriate to send this letter as a member of the SSH. Any comment or discussion would be welcome.
Dear Cllr Wayne Crabbe,
I am writing this letter to express my concern after reading, on the Swindon Advertiser website, of a campaign being fronted by yourself to provide a number of “alternative medicines” free of charge on the local NHS service. A link to the aforementioned article Call to Make Alternative Therapies Free on the NHS (written by David Wiles, published on 4/02/2013) can be found at the bottom of this letter. The article makes small reference to the report submitted to the Swindon Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee by yourself, focusing more on a number of anecdotes about “alternative medicines” including osteopathy and the practice known as homeopathy; whilst listing treatments such as aromatherapy, acupuncture and massage.
I would not want to spend much time in this letter on the potential benefit or harm various “alternative medicines” can illicit to either individual service users or communities; it suffices to say that the claims of clinical efficacy of many treatments which fall under this umbrella term are either unverified or known to be false. There is a great deal of literature from various academic, medical and political institutions which would need to be considered. The performer Tim Minchin expresses this point perfectly in his beat poem Storm, in which he states “By definition… alternative medicine… Has either not been proved to work or been proved not to work. Do you know what they call alternative medicine that has been proved to work? Medicine.”
Much of your report The Provision of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine in Swindon submitted to the Swindon Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee (submitted 30/01/2013) is hard to argue with as it focuses on the inclusive purpose of the NHS to allow all patients to receive the best treatment available specifically tailored to them, whilst eliminating socio-economic barriers in medical treatment. It also makes a very good point that most pharmaceutical medicine can present side effects which can be a barrier to recovery, and that some patients may have problems of trust with such treatments. However before jumping to “alternative medicines” there are a litany of other clinically proven and scientifically sound therapies, treatments and interventions which can improve medical outcomes without the use of pharmaceuticals. Take for example the now commonplace Cognitive Behavioural Therapy paradigm (CBT) used within the field of mental health to treat symptoms and causes of many mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. CBT has been demonstrated to be much more effective than a placebo in the treatment of many health issues such as chronic back pain, irritable bowel syndrome and post-operative recovery to list but a few. There are also many examples in the medical literature of strong support networks in the form of family, community or specifically designed support groups improving the long term medical outcomes for patients of heart disease and some forms of cancer; again I am only listing a few of the many applications.
There is another issue with the argument from inclusivity which is made even more poignant in light of the United Kingdom’s, and specifically Swindon’s, current financial crisis. These “alternative medicines” would not be free of charge at all, rather they would come at the cost of our local health service budget; the money to pay for these treatments has to come from somewhere. This will mean another patient will at some point have some avenue of treatment closed to them due to tighter budget constraints. There are plenty of stories within the media of patients of serious illness feeling they have to seek private medical care because the NHS does not provide the best treatment. Indeed, more money spent on Swindon’s pain clinic, thus allowing it to spend more time with each patient and therefore provide a more patient centered approach, would probably provide better outcomes for more patients. We want to ensure we have the best medicines our money can buy.
That really is where my concern comes from. In the land of plenty “alternative medicines” should be free on the NHS; it would allow more data to be collected thus debunking the bogus claims and allowing us to pursue those treatments which might work. However in a time when money is tight, during a recession where health and medical outcomes deteriorate, we do not want to be investing in something that might work for some people. We want what we know will work. We want the most effective health care our money can buy. We want to take the best care we can of our sick, our suffering, our weak and our dying. If there is some spare money floating around to invest, please consider where it would be most effectively spent. If this scheme would require funding cuts to other services please do not follow through with it- our health service is under enough strain as it is.
The Swindon Advertiser Article can be found at
Cllr Wayne Crabbe’s Report to the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee can be found at