Please bear with me and have a look at the three short statements quoted below:

1 Reiki

… a Reiki practitioner channels this pure ‘chi’, the ‘ki’ in Reiki, or energy through her hands to the recipient, enhancing and stimulating the individual’s natural ability to restore a sense of wellbeing. It is instrumental in lowering stress levels, and therefore may equip the recipient with increased resources to deal with the physical as well as the emotional, mental and spiritual problems raised by his/her condition. It is completely natural and safe, and can be used alongside conventional medicine as well as other complementary therapies or self-help techniques.

It has been documented that patients receiving chemotherapy have commented on feeling less distress and discomfort when Reiki is part of their care plan. Besides feeling more energy, hope and tranquillity, some patients have felt that the side-effects of chemotherapy were easier to cope with. Reiki has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, to raise energy levels in tired and apathetic patients. It is of great value in degenerative disease for the very reasons that pain and anxiety can be reduced.

The treatment is gentle, supportive and non-invasive, the patient always remains clothed. Even though the origins of reiki are spiritual in nature, Reiki imposes no set of beliefs. It can be used by people of different cultural backgrounds and faith, or none at all. This makes it particularly suitable in medical settings. Predicting who would or would not like to receive Reiki is impossible.

2 Emmett

EMMETT is a gentle soft tissue release technique developed by Australian remedial therapist Ross Emmett. It involves the therapist using light finger pressure at specific locations on the body to elicit a relaxation response within the area of concern.

Cancer impacts people in different ways throughout the journey of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Many have found the EMMETT Technique to be very beneficial in a number of ways. Although pressure therapy isn’t new (e.g. acupressure and trigger point therapy are already well known), the amount of pressure required with EMMETT is much lighter and the placement of the pressure is unique to EMMETT Therapy.

Many cancer patients undergo surgery and experience post-surgery tightness and tension around the surgery site in the scar tissue and further afield through the connective tissue or fascia as the body heals. They experience restricted range of movement that may be painful too. Mastectomy patients as an example will usually experience pain or tenderness, swelling around the surgery site, limited arm or shoulder movement, and even numbness in the chest or upper arm. Here’s where EMMETT can assist.  With gentle pressure to specific points, many women have received relief from the pain, reduced swelling and much improved range of movement.  There are multiple EMMETT points that are used to help these women and that give the therapist a range of options depending on the patient’s specific concern.

Many cancer patients also experience fatigue, increased risk of infection, nausea, appetite changes and constipation as common side effects of chemotherapy.  These symptoms can also be greatly supported with a designated sequence where the EMMETT Therapist gently stimulates areas all around the body for an overall effect.  Patients report reduction in swelling, feelings of lightness, increased energy, more robust emotional well-being, less pain and feeling better generally within themselves.

3 Daoyin Tao

The theory behind this massage lies in traditional Chinese medicine, so covers yin and yang, five elements and Chinese face reading from a health perspective.  It enables the emotional elements behind disease to be explored. For example, the Chinese will say that grief is held in the Lung, anger in the liver, and fear in the kidney.

For this half hour massage there is no need for the patient to remove clothes, so it is a lovely way of receiving a massage where body image may be an issue, or where lines and feeds are in place, making removal of clothes difficult. This massage therapy can be given not only in a clinic, but also on the day unit, on hospital wards and even in an intensive care unit.

In working the meridian system the therapist is able to work the whole body, reaching areas other than the contact zone. Patients have commented that this deeply relaxing and soothing massage is; “one of the best massages I have ever had”. It has been proven to be beneficial with problems of; sleep, headaches, anxiety, watery eyes, shoulder and neck tension, sinusitis and panic attacks, jaw tension, fear, emotional trauma/distress.



Where do you think these statements come from?

They sound as though they come from a profoundly uncritical source, such as a commercial organisation trying to persuade customers to use some dodgy treatments, don’t they?


They come from the NHS! To be precise, they come from the NHS NATURAL HEALTH SCHOOL in Harrowgate, a service that offers a range of free complementary therapy treatments to patients and their relatives who are affected by a cancer diagnosis and are either receiving their cancer treatment at Harrogate or live in the Harrogate and Rural District.

This NHS school offers alternative treatments to cancer patients and claim that they know from experience, that when Complementary Therapies are integrated into patient care we are able to deliver safe, high quality care which fulfils the needs of even the most complex of patients.

In addition, they also run courses for alternative practitioners. Their reflexology course, for instance, covers all of the following:

  • Explore the history and origins of Reflexology
  • Explore the use of various mediums used in treatment including waxes, balms, powders and oils
  • Explore the philosophy of holism and its role within western bio medicine
  • Reading the feet/hands and mapping the reflex points
  • Relevant anatomy, physiology and pathology
  • Managing a wide range of conditions
  • Legal implications
  • Cautions and contraindications
  • Assessment and client care
  • Practical reflexology skills and routines
  • Treatment planning

I imagine that the initiators of the school are full of the very best, altruistic intentions. I therefore have considerable difficulties in criticising them. Yet, I do strongly feel that the NHS should be based on good evidence; and that much of the school’s offerings seems to be the exact opposite. In fact, the NHS-label is being abused for giving undeserved credibility to outright quackery, in my view.

I am sure the people behind this initiative only want to help desperate patients. I also suspect that most patients are very appreciative of their service. But let me put it bluntly: we do not need to make patients believe in mystical life forces, meridians and magical energies; if nothing else, this undermines rational thought (and we could do with a bit more of that at present). There are plenty of evidence-based approaches which, when applied with compassion and empathy, will improve the well-being of these patients without all the nonsense and quackery in which the NHS NATURAL HEALTH SCHOOL seems to specialise.

It is bad enough, I believe, that such nonsense is currently popular and increasingly politically correct, but let’s keep/make the NHS evidence-based, please!

21 Responses to Bogus cancer therapies – but with NHS credentials

  • During her last few weeks, my wife had a number of reiki sessions. Each time, she said she felt less uncomfortable thanks to their attentions.
    It was heartbreaking to see. With ambivalence, I took her to the early sessions (the last two were at home). How could such gibberish be in a par with the benefits of attendance of caring nurses and other professionals? How could she be buoyed by a strangers’ attention for a few minutes, by a break in the routine of sciatica and metasticising cancer?

    But that was it: a break in routine, a different posture and focus on being still, a few moments with even a wierd practice like reiki brought her away from the sloping rail track through palliative central.

    Oh yes, businesses and interest groups can push this bunk as efficacious. But it isn’t.
    Kindness and the skill (or tools) to detract from reality can serve for a time..
    She gained pleasure from how I laid out her meals like a smiley-faced plate. Maybe some entrepreneur will seek funds for that, too? But it’s been over 8 years, so someone else may have patented it by now??

    Yes, they’re often kindly, but let’s not ponder their magic may be better with a few years at Hogwarts or a new wand from Ollivanders.

  • Until my recent retirement (due to ill health) I was a consultant oncologist in an NHS cancer centre. We were lucky enough to have access to an information and support centre which was run as a charity and had originally been set up by one of our radiographers. As well as offering practical information and support (such as how to get holiday insurance with a cancer diagnosis, or sessions with a social worker) they offered a range of other activities and therapies. These included art therapy and music therapy, but also various kinds of massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, acupuncture and counselling. At one point we had to persuade them to get rid of one of the counsellors who was advising patients to stop their chemotherapy, but generally the overwhelming feedback that we got from patients was positive.

    I think the main reason for this is how frightened and out-of-control people feel when they are diagnosed with cancer. They know that their lives are at risk, and whether they are undergoing radical treatment (aimed at a cure, usually complex and prolonged) or palliative (aimed at alleviating their symptoms, improving their quality of life and if possible their survival prospects) they come with an expectation that treatment is going to be difficult and unpleasant, which it often is. They probably don’t realise at first how much it is going to take over their lives, with hospital appointments to see specialist doctors, nurses, to have investigations, for many weeks of daily radiotherapy, for months of chemotherapy, necessitating perhaps two visits every three-week cycle, unplanned admissions or delays in treatment due to side-effects, and having to put up with the effects of treatment in between times, not to mention long journeys to the cancer centre, which was not usually located at their local hospital.

    Most of the feedback that we got was that our patients were very appreciative of what they were getting, how kindly they were being treated, and how highly they thought of our cancer centre, but even so, it would be unrealistic to suppose that they were having a very positive experience. The feeling of being out of control was generally the most distressing thing, along with uncertainty of all kinds (whether it was waiting for the results of a test or not knowing what their outcome would be). Then there is the weight loss, hair loss, changes in skin and complexion, mutilating surgery…

    The support centre provided a service which many of my patients felt was very valuable, and I think Mr Wiltshir sums it up very well. Being able to get away from the clinical environment for a while and have somebody give them their full attention while performing a relaxing and pleasant ritual is an effective way of getting cancer patients to feel better about themselves, and as it is something they have chosen to accept, rather than have forced upon them by circumstances (which is the case with conventionalc cancer treatment) it diminishes the feeling of being out of control.

    I hope the people treating them weren’t making wild claims about how reiki or acupuncture might improve the course of their cancer, but there is no doubt that psychological distress and the associated muscular tension causes or exacerbates a great many symptoms, and any technique that involves relaxation and improved self-image is going to be very helpful.

    The NHS does not have much in the way of comparable services, and while I am highly sceptical regarding the theory and effectiveness of these alternative treatments in modifying the course of disease, I have no doubt that they improved the quality of life of my patients and made their conventional treatments more bearable.

    I believe very strongly in the power of the scientific method and the effectiveness of rational thought. However, most people tend to believe what appeals to them and choose their evidence accordingly (if at all). My role as an oncologist was to recommend and deliver the best evidence-based treatment available, but at the same time I don’t feel that it would have been right to deny my patients some comfort at a time when they were most vulnerable.

    • I agree entirely – but why can we not provide comfort, compassion etc. without woo?
      In my experience, alternative therapists all too often try to persuade their patients that ‘it is all this chemo that makes you ill’. And this is a very disturbing message for a cancer patient, in my view.

      • I think we were lucky in having our support centre on-site, and to have a good relationship with the people that ran it, so anybody advising patients to give up conventional treatment was spotted and dealt with quickly. Also they weren’t offering cancer treatments as such, and they weren’t offering dangerous approaches such as some of the very strange diets that people are prone to trying.

        As for comfort and compassion, I was very fortunate in working in an oncology department where the whole ethos was to put the patient first, and there was a strong team spirit which enabled this. Nevertheless, we were a busy department, competing with the rest of the NHS for scarce resources, and there was never enough time or enough staff to give the service that we would really have liked (though I think we managed quite well under the circumstances).

        The local support centre provided a valuable adjunct, and I really can’t see what the NHS could do that would be equivalent. It is the time, the fuss, the pampering, the one-to-one contact, the non-clinical environment that sets the scene, and the relaxation that the therapies mostly provide that seems to be therapeutic, and while one can idealistically envision an evidence-based way of providing this, it isn’t going to happen on the NHS.

        I used to spend a lot of time explaining to my patients what their cancer was, how it was expected to behave, and how their treatment would affect it. Very few of them had any knowledge of how the human body worked, and the information that bombards us every day from the media, advertising, even from high street pharmacies is highly misleading (think what people pay for RNA-containing face creams). If they were seeing an SCAM practitioner for Iscador, Laertrile, Gerson therapy, dendritic cell therapy, liquid oxygen drops or what-have-you I would explain why I thought it wouldn’t work, I would try to persuade them to leave it alone, and at the very least I would want them to keep me informed of what herbal medicines they were taking. But when they visited the support centre with whom we had a good relationship and who did not (to my knowledge) offer harmful treatment or advice, I didn’t feel it was my place to interfere with the choices they were making.

        I am using the past tense since I am now retired, but my old department continues to flourish.

        Actually, in my experience counsellors tend to do far more harm than aromatherapists etc. Anybody with limited training can call themselves a counsellor, particularly if they have a degree in psychology, and very few people know the difference between a counsellor, a counselling psychologist, a clinical psychologist, a psychotherapist, a psychoanalyst and a psychiatrist (give me the clinical psychologist any time – they are the ones with extensive training and a practical approach to problem-solving). I have certainly known counsellors try to convince patients that the causes of their cancer are all in the mind, and the less training they have the more they seem to believe in their ability to solve everybody’s problems. Of course I have also known very good counsellors, but as a profession they are not closely regulated.

        Ah! The ideals of evidence-based medicine versus the practicalities of delivering a health care service…

        • During one a long lull in cancer, my wife did a counselling course. She was told she’d never make a good counsellor because she always wanted the best outcome for folk: “sometimes, things don’t have a good outcome.”
          Having the balls to deliver the news seems to be a missing quality of woo.

          • It’s funny that. I have always found that people find it much easier dealing with bad news if you are honest and straightforward. Usually the truth isn’t as bad as their fears, and nothing is worse than the limbo of uncertainty. Once you know what you are facing you can deal with it and move on. The last thing you might expect people to feel when confronted with bad news is relief, but that is what I have often seen.

      • 99 percent with you, Prof: only because 100 percent would be unscientific. Thank you again.

    • Firstly, Dr Money-Kyrle, thank you for being one of the host of specialists and general carers, support staff and administrators who help folk travel though life for longer and with less pain. Thanks for being a spearhead of the profession that makes that most difficult of announcements: “we can do no more.” It’s this final kindness that helps the soon-to-die and their families come to term with and build the memories that will help manage grief, though I freely admit I’m nought without my wife.

      Apart from almost passing out at my wife’s diagnosis, I don’t recall either of us being dwarfed by fear. Though there were rabbit-in-headlight moments we generally overcame these with help of kindness from all agents of NHS (and Macmillan) care.

      I found the Complimentary brigade somewhat curious, not least because the grief counselling team were affiliated (and strangely told me I didn’t need counselling when visiting them after my wife’s death). Even in the toughest times, I couldn’t understand why such ill-founded agencies were allowed access to the patients. I lacked the appropriate interpersonal skills to identify and seek assistance at events that hindsight exposes as significant.
      The most irksome and totally avoidable incident was when Jan’s soon-to-retire GP asked for our email address and sent links to a poorly disguised christian revenue-raising outlet (can’t recall which of the many varieties of christian). Jan was a life-long closet atheist, for whom such reminders of the intimidating cults that had intimidated her into silence was a disservice. Has that GP not have retired prior to Jan’s death, I would have sought resolution with and of that doctor.

      Most chemo patients we met were vibrant characters with a zest for the positive: each of them made it clear that woo was not welcome in their environment.

      As my previous posts reveal, I am no shrinking violet in response to gibberish, and I work hard to better understand it. This is in no small part because of the intrusive behaviours of SCAM and religion (or those few colleagues who tutted when the celebrant announced her atheism). Weakened patients who’ve spent a lifetime striving to be polite and not belittle the views of others will invariably err on the side of coursety when approached by peddlers of woo. I can’t imagine how to research the patient (or carers’) psychology of intrusions, but there’s an accountability that the CAM brigade must recognise is a component of their approaches to those they claim to wish well.

      It’s not just about whether “holistic nurses” establish their influence over a loved one who therefore never comes to terms with their approaching death. It is a case of knowing that the trust-worthy medical professionals are being followed by pilot fish who’ll push counter-reality to no demonstrable benefit other than their own careers.

      “We can do no more,” is perhaps the most valuable message delivered throughout the whole cancer journey. Increasing numbers are unlikely to hear it, but that voice’s honesty is surprisingly empowering and most likely the most difficult communication any medical professional ever utters – for that, I thank you all once again.

      Dr Julian, I wish you a speedy and resilient return to the best of achievable health. Thanks once more for the life that’s served so many of us.

  • On chceking the About tab in the link provided I came upon an interesting photo.

    • yes, lovely, isn’t it?

    • It’s a terrible photograph. You have to puzzle it out to see what it is of; it isn’t easy to identify Their Royal Highnesses and it is very unflattering of the Duchess, nor is it immediately clear what is going on. The composition is cluttered and clumsy, and the way it is cropped to cut off half of the heads of the subject and then placed in front of half a photograph of the cancer centre is just strange. The lurid pinks of the clothes in the photo don’t really harmonise with the lilac and green colour scheme of the Web page. The whole thing is very off-putting and I don’t know why anybody would want to use it to advertise their department to the world. Unfortunately anybody with a camera these days thinks they are a photographer, and anybody with cheap software thinks they are a Web designer. But then, anybody with a diploma in reflexology …

  • “ I imagine that the initiators of the school are full of the best altruistic intentions.”
    But applying imagination to healthcare is contrary to the themes your blog espouses Prof.

    “I am sure the people behind this initiative only want to help desperate patients.”
    Really? What makes you so sure Prof.? What evidence is there of the motivation of these folks?

    I cannot believe these folk are serious and sincerely believe energies can be transmitted as they claim.
    And if they can, what if the therapists hands are just a little in the wrong place? Are there no side effects?
    Or effects on persons standing near?
    Is there any proof of safety?
    How many patients are treated?
    What proportion claim benefit?

    Most importantly, has this NHS Trust obtained ethical approval to use this innovative treatment on its patients?
    I bet not.
    This must be further explored as there might be corruption and fraud involved.

    • This reminds me of the ol’ meme that the midwife’s bladder at the moment of your birth had a greater gravitational influence on you than any of the planets that Mystic Meg et al claim write your future.
      And stars? Maybe a gnat 100 meters away.
      I’ve not done the maths. Anyone know the average bladder volume? 100 mil perhaps… that’s 0.1 kg….

      • When full, Typically 300ml for a woman, 600ml for a man, 1,000ml for a member of the medical school rugby club and up to 2,000ml for a man with chronic prostate disease.

        • Ooops.
          A quick calculation suggests I’m wrong by several orders of magnitude. At the average distance, its comparable to a mass of about 1000 Mount Everests.
          Of course I could be wrong – again – but 15 zeros aren’t ignored easily

  • A long time ago, before the concepts of randomness and probability had been developed, any phenomenon which was unpredictable or variable in ways that had no clear cause was ascribed to the action of supernatural agencies. Thus the fall of a set of dice was the will of the gods, the appearance of the viscera of a sacrifical animal was used in divination and the movements of the heavenly bodies (some of which were themselves regarded as deities) were believed to have a predictive value.

    Anybody who claimed to be able to make sense of these was held in high regard, and of course religious organisations and holy men co-opted this respect.

    We now know what the heavenly bodies are, why they move, and their configurations can be predicted by astronomers with a high degree of accuracy. Nevertheless the belief seems to persist that they can predict our lives, and even influence them, although the planets are now known to be balls of rock and gas, rather than powerful supernatural beings. Indeed, a few days ago I read an article in The Times informing readers of a forthcoming lunar eclipse (which is expected to be more complete and prolonged than usual, and accompanied by a conjunction with Mars at a time when the red planet is making a relatively close approach to the earth). The article quoted an American priest as stating that God uses these heavenly events to communicate with us, and that we should take note of whatever the message was supposed to be. I couldn’t really follow his reasoning, given that the only thing we don’t know about the eclipse well in advance is if the weather conditions will allow us to see it. What sort of holy message can be delivered by a phenomenon which is predictable, periodical and the occurrence of which therefore conveys no information?

    • Reasoning and religion are such unlikely bedfellows that it’s no surprise they’ve never produced progeny. I love the (possibly apocryphal) tale that Saturn’s rings were first thought to be Jesus’ foreskin (a character of uncertain historicity subject to intimate mutilation by tradition).

      Amidst my current reads are works on science and the scientist in ancient Rome. Whereas the cost of writing materials once outweighed most family’s hopes – irrespective of their desire for education – and a lifetime’s exposure to information was less than the opportunity of an hour on the internet today, ignorance was enforced by circumstance. In our times, there are industries (religion, SCAM, psychics etc) who rely on willfull ignorance of their customer base: but we’re fortunate because our species intellect is warming globally, too. Therein lies the future of woo: its capacity to enforce ignorance is shrinking. And we’ve longer life-spans, sharing of knowledge and the liberty of curiosity to thank for this.

      SCAM’s days are drawing to a close: oh, it’ll scream and shout with increasing gibberish, but the woo is falling under the scrutiny of scholars, comics and the curious.

      Whether woo’s days end during my lifetime seems unlikely, but the decades aren’t being kind to the unkind deceits of gibberish.

      And I’ve learnt today that a healthy lady’s bladder holds half that of a healthy man’s, but neither are of comparable mass to the planets that astrologers claim influence our lives: the astro-nutters (like the homeopaths) rely on far more urine that I’d ever imagined.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new blog posts by email.

Recent Comments

Note that comments can be edited for up to five minutes after they are first submitted but you must tick the box: “Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.”

The most recent comments from all posts can be seen here.