This is the last installment of my Patient First Medicine blog. In this post I will explore why we need to shift away from well outdated perceptions and structures of authority within medicine, as well as put forward a new vision of medicine that puts patient needs first.
In my first blog, I said that orthodox medicine doesn't work. In my second blog I qualified this statement to say that, without a doubt, orthodox medicine has its areas of expertise where other therapies can only tread with the greatest respect. Yet, we find a conflict here between the socially projected perception of orthodox medicine, as the font of all medical wisdom, and the actual reality as experienced by the public and represented in hard facts. It is this unwillingness to let go of this old model of authority that is resulting in the needless suffering and the unnecessary expense.
In Robert Scott's SQHP, GHR, MAAMET, excellent treatise Decoding Myth-Information, he quotes from a study obtained from the British Medical Journal's Evidence Centre.
"Of around 2500 (commonly used NHS) treatments covered 13% are rated as beneficial, 23% likely to be beneficial, 8% as trade off between benefits and harms, 6% unlikely to be beneficial, 4% likely to be ineffective or harmful, and 46%, the largest proportion, as unknown effectiveness." pg 30
Even given a generous interpretation of these figures, only 36% of the treatments can fall on the side of being likely to bring benefit. Even then, the definition of what constitutes a "benefit" needs to be established. Does this mean symptom management through drug therapy, and in possible cases where a holistic approach could facilitate cure or greatly reduce the need for drugs?
8% of the treatments were in the middle ground and deemed a "trade-off" between benefit and harm.
Yet, a whopping 56%, more than half of 2,500 treatments, were considered, by sources associated with orthodox medicine, as likely to cause harm or of unknown benefit. We are paying for this, and in times when others must go without!
To paint yourself into a corner whereby you must be seen to be doing something and are willing to do so to the point that 46% of the treatments you offer are of unknown effectiveness, rather than explore other more effective treatments outside your discipline, sounds like self-interest first not patient first medicine.
A great number of these treatments will be drug based. Yet, Mr. Scott goes on to draw from an article by Jenny Hope, medical correspondent (Daily Mail).
In the decade up to 2007, 80,000 people were reported to have died from adverse side effects of their medication, with a further 46,000,000 pounds being spent by the NHS to treat the side effects of the survivors. pg 30
This is a horrific set of statistics illustrating harm, death and excessive cost so that allopathic medicine can be seen to be doing something rather than accept their limitations and consider treatments outside their discipline, such as holistic medicine.
I am very specific about referring to holistic herbal medicine to distinguish it from herbal practice or methods that use standardised or patent products. A holistic approach to herbal preparations respects all the constituents of a plant as nature intended rather than manipulating the process to achieve isolated substances or unnatural strengths of "active ingredients." In my view, all the constituents of a plant are "active" in the sense that they play a balancing and buffering role in the final overall effect.
The late Timothy Whittaker BSc(Pharm) DBTh, FIRCH, former Chief Chemist to Potters and President of the International Register of Herbalists and Homeopaths, stated once that they (Potters) had gone down the route of standardisation years ago only to experience side-effects causing the same concerns as allopathic medicines.
Furthermore, standardised products, with standard dosage and strength, does not consider the individual vitality. A holistic practitioner of herbalism will consider the individual constitution of a patient and formulate the herbs and their strength accordingly. This in itself goes a long way to minimalize adverse reactions.
Some arguments supporting the exclusion of holistic herbal medicine relate to its safety or proof of it efficacy.
I find this positioning on safety extremely amusing, given the statistics presented above with respect to the death of thousands due to the effects of allopathic drug treatments. In fact, they have coined a disease after it. Iatrogenic illnesses are those that arise as a result of allopathic intervention. Moreover, there seems to be a grossly perverse conflict of interest whereby those with a vested interest in product sales are responsible for testing and advising on the products they sell! I suppose a similar charge could be made about herbalists. The difference being, we try to move patients off herbs as soon as safely possible. We also do not have a history of thousands of maimed and dead patients. The legal right of pharmaceutical companies to withhold less favourable studies, with respect to drugs being tested, can only result in distorted decisions being made about the effectiveness and safety of drugs on the market. Even when scrutinised by independent bodies. Recalls are not unknown, but should they be happening at all where balanced testing results exist?
In contrast, the only main case of herbs causing injury to reach the headlines ( and believe me, if there had been more they would be making the headlines 24/7), resulted from a tainted mixture allegedly coming from China. This case has been pulled out, paraded and beaten so often, by the detractors of herbal medicine, it must be leather by now! Certainly, it is a serious incident for those affected, and should not be taken lightly. However, it clearly reflects poorly enforced import controls rather than an inherent danger in herbal medicine as a whole.
Not known to take a risk with its profits, the insurance industry presents itself as a good weathercock of reality. As Mr. Scott points out....
"According to the Actuary Tables of risk used by Balens, the premier insurance company for complementary and alternative medicine, Herbalism poses a similar level of risk to Astrology, Crystal Therapy and Creative Writing." pg 30
Most of the patients presenting themselves to me over the years have been chronic cases and I believe the bulk of them have been in the care of allopathic medicine, in some cases as long as 10, 20 or even 30 years, with little improvement in the underlying cause of their condition. I am happy to say, that in the great majority of these cases I was able to see the reduction or removal of their drug regimen as well as facilitate a cure. This record, repeated by my colleagues the world over, poses one burning question.....If orthodox medicine is the font of all medical knowledge, and the main source of serious medical treatment for all medical problems, why didn't they help these patients?
One argument given against such an observation is the illnesses suffered were self limiting......What? After 10 to 30 years?!
Another argument offered is that the achievements of holistic herbalists constitutes mere empirical evidence without any sound theory behind it. There are suggestions that these results have not come under proper scientific study. Well from the numerous reports I have read it seems so many of those trained in conducting a "proper scientific study" don't know how to conduct one. This view is derived from reports on study findings whereby failings of procedure and protocal are suggested. But this is neither here nor there. The real deadlock lies in the orthodox world's insistence that verification of our results can only be achieved through tests that are clearly not applicable to the way in which we work. They demand evidence of a single herb or patent formula's performance when applied to a specific disease. This is not how holistic traditional western herbalists practice. We combine herbs in various strengths and temperaments specific to the patient. We tone, cleanse and balance to facilitate proper function and support the inherent healing process. We balance dietary, emotional and lifestyle excesses. Each treatment is unique because each journey a patient took to reach their disease, is unique. We take our philosophy and apply it in an individual way and we get results. How often do we need to repeat this pattern of success before the moral high ground of scientific proof gives way to common sense. At the end of the day, a suffering patient is interested in results, not theories.
So given the questionable results of orthodox medicine, is there a place for such an authoritarian and influential body, or should its weakness be exposed, and those areas where it excels be exalted. Should it not begin to accept its limitations and put patient needs ahead of pride, privilege and profit.
Given its poor performanc, should it be alloted such exclusive access to public funds and political influence when 56% of the treatments those funds finance are of little or no benefit....or can possibly harm? When more successful alternatives, like holistic herbal medicine, are available, how can governments justify the risk or the expense...or the suffering. Holistic methods could be used to reduce long term drug costs and put the money into care. Hire more nurses and doctors so shifts are shorter and staff are properly nourished, rested and alert. This way mistakes will be fewer. The amount presently spent on compensation, for mistakes made, would go a long way to cover the inherent cost of such changes.
No one should be left lying on a trolley in A&E for hours!
How about a council of therapist bodies, each with equal say....including the members of orthodox medicine?
How about nationalising drug manufacturing to take excessive profit out of the equation and focus production on drugs that are really needed...as well as explore alternatives?
Isn't it time we asked government why they continue to support such a system, and is all the hire/fire....throw money at it...just another example of being seen to do something even when it never works? How many more years do they need to get it right?
Does this all sound scary? Does it sound scarier than 13,000, 80,000, 200,000 deaths?
The day that Rome was at its zenith how could they have known that when they woke the next day, the empire had already begun to crumble!
Health and Happiness
The Green Man