MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

I am sure that most of us have had enough of the endless discussions, information and foremost disinformation about Brexit; we truly had to endure them ad nauseam. And here I come with a post about the very subject.

Have I lost my senses?

Bear with me and find out for yourself.

There has been little mention of alternative medicine in the debates about last week’s referendum. For the Remain campaigners, there was perhaps no reason to go into this divisive topic because, in their view, all would stay as it is. And the ‘Brexiters’ obviously had other things on their minds. It seemed almost as though they were too busy inventing new lies on a daily basis. To me, it seems fairly obvious though that, in the realm of alternative medicine, quite a lot could change after disastrous vote to leave the EU .

My main fears are twofold;

  1. Politicians who are short-sighted enough to campaign for Brexit might also be sufficiently stupid to go for unproven medicine. This fear seems to be confirmed by Nigel Farage who once claimed that BIG HARMA was lobbying in Brussels to put alternative medicine producers out of business. But we should take that with a pinch of salt, of course; anything this man says is hardly worth taking any notice of, in my view.
  2. Consumers who are gullible enough to believe the false arguments of the Brexiters might also be sufficiently naïve to believe the fallacies and falsehoods of alternative medicine promoters.

So, are there reasonable predictions as to how Brexit might impact on the alternative medicine scene in Britain? I searched for some evidence on this question and was surprised how little there was to be found.

Dr Jan Knight from Knight Scientific, a medical research company, was quoted saying: “A lot of the complementary/alternative medicine lobby are rubbing their hands because they think they’ll be able to do anything, but I don’t think the regulations will change.”

The excellent QUACKOMETER published an entire article on the subject which is well worth reading and essentially agrees with this view. Here are its conclusions: “EU laws about alternative medicine are not that great in number. The UK is free to choose who it licenses as a medical practitioner. It can allow chiropractors and osteopaths to have statutory regulation and does so. It can fund any such treatment publicly if it so wished without EU interference. It can police the sale of products on the High Street by funding Trading Standards and training them (but it chooses not to.) The UK government can come up with its own schemes to register herbalists and homeopaths and in doing so misleads the public about them. In short, it is possible to suggest that the UK governments do indeed exercise sovereignty over how alternative medicine manifests itself, how well the public is protected and how much public money is spent on it. Leaving the EU is not going to make much difference that way. Although I do suspect that staying might indeed over the years steadily increase the level of regulation around the matter. Successive UK governments have not done a lot. The EU just a little more.”

Perhaps the regulatory framework might not change a lot. But what about the prevalence of alternative medicine usage? It seems difficult to predict in which direction it will go. The reason is that I see influences in both directions.

FACTORS THAT COULD INCREASE THE USE OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE

The Brexiters managed to style themselves as the anti-establishment. It is obvious that much of alternative medicine understands itself as an anti-establishment movement within healthcare. This means there could be a natural affinity between the two. On second thought, however, I think we can reject this possibility. The reason is that the Brexiters’ anti-establishment stance was nothing but a campaign ploy; in truth it is as genuine as a 4£ note.

What is much more real, in my view, is the well-documented inability of the Brexiters to correctly interpret the evidence (one could put this more simply by pointing out their ability to twist and turn the truth such that it suits their aims). These are qualities which I have often observed in promoters of alternative medicine, and it is this type of affinity that eventually might stimulate a general upwards trend of alternative medicine in the UK.

In a similar vein, we have to account for the influence of our future king. Prince Charles clearly has an alternative bee under his bonnet. Once we are outside the EU, it is likely that his influence on health politicians and other decision makers will be felt more powerfully. The Prince of Wales might even revive the ‘Smallwood Report’ which he commissioned to convince politicians that money could be saved by using more alternative therapies in the NHS. Charles and his views usually generate bewilderment on the EU-level, while here in the UK we still have many who take him seriously. His influence in a post-Brexit Britain is likely to be strengthened and will therefore be a factor that has the potential to boost alternative medicine in the UK.

FACTORS THAT COULD DECREASE THE USE OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE

It has been reported that our suicidal move out of the EU has led to a contraction of wealth in Britain which is bigger than anything seen since 1921. Apparently, £ 120 billion have been wiped off the value of the stock market within just a few hours. To assume that this will hit only those who are rich enough to own shares, is more than naïve. It will hit all Brits and might even drive us into another recession.

Such developments are, of course, most unwelcome but nevertheless important in relation to alternative medicine usage. Those who employ alternative treatments usually pay for them out of their own pocket. Alternative medicine has always been a bit of a luxury item for those who had more money than sense. The consequence is that financially hard times are almost automatically associated with a reduction of alternative medicine use.

CONCLUSION

All of this is, of course, akin to an exercise in reading tea leafs. But if I am correct, we will now see a significant decrease in the demand for alternative medicine in the ‘Disunited Kingdom’. Once the financial misery is over – and that could take many years – Prince Charles and other ‘irrationalists’ might succeed in bringing about a moderate increase in the use of unproven treatments.

11 Responses to Alternative medicine in the ‘Disunited Kingdom’

  • What a coincidence! I noticed a similarity between the marketing approach of quacks and that of Brexit leaders. May I blow my own trumpet?

    http://anarchic-teapot.net/2016/06/take-control/

  • What about the EU Traditional Herbal Products Directive?

    • I suppose all these regulations and directives will initially become UK laws and, when there is time, they will be revised as necessary. but the latter step might be many years down the road.

    • The Traditional Herbal Products Directive and the the Directive on homeopathy (92/73/EEC) are already incorporated into UK law in the Human Medicines Regulations 2012, so nothing will change even if we don’t have to comply with the Directives – the HMR stand until such time as the Westminster Government changes them.

      Now, that could happen, but I really can’t see that Government will want to spend time on homeopathy or herbal regulation: they are likely to have far more important issues to deal with for at least a generation.

      • The MHRA said this today:

        The Agency’s response to the outcome of the EU referendum.

        Following the result of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, the focus of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency continues to be on our public health role. We will continue to work to the highest levels of excellence and quality, working with and supporting our customers, partners and stakeholders to protect health and improve lives.

        Working closely with government we will consider the implications for the work of the Agency. We will continue to make a major contribution globally to improving public health through the effective regulation of medicines and medical devices, underpinned by science and research.

        The last five words can only mean an end to homeopathy.

  • A few quack websites I came across were promoting Brexit. There was a particularly odious one claiming Jo Cox and her involvement with Syrian White Helmets was some kind of conspiracy and that her campaigning was a front.

    Of course one can see why Big Alt Med might be happy to see the back of the EU.

  • Correct me if there is evidence to the contrary, but I think there is unlikely to be any correlation or association between EU in/out views, and views pro or con relating to quackery. I think this post unworthy of your usual high standard.

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