An article in THE TIMES seems worth mentioning. Here are some excerpts:
… Maternity care at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH) is the subject of an inquiry, prompted by dozens of baby deaths. More than 450 families have now come forward to take part in the review, led by the expert midwife Donna Ockenden. The trust now faces further scrutiny over its use of aromatherapy, after experts branded guidelines at the trust “shocking” and not backed by evidence. Several bereaved families have said they recall aromatherapy being heavily promoted at the trust’s maternity units.
It is being prosecuted over the death of baby Wynter Andrews just 23 minutes after she was born in September 2019. Her mother Sarah Andrews wrote on Twitter that she remembered aromatherapy being seen as “the answer to everything”. Internal guidelines, first highlighted by the maternity commentator Catherine Roy, suggest using essential oils if the placenta does not follow the baby out of the womb quickly enough… the NUH guidelines say aromatherapy can help expel the placenta, and suggest midwives ask women to inhale oils such as clary sage, jasmine, lavender or basil, while applying others as an abdominal compress. They also describe the oils as “extremely effective for the prevention of and, in some cases, the treatment of infection”. The guidelines also suggest essential oils to help women suffering from cystitis, or as a compress on a caesarean section wound. Nice guidelines for those situations do not recommend aromatherapy…
The NUH adds frankincense “may calm hysteria” and is “recommended in situations of maternal panic”. Roy said: “It is shocking that dangerous advice seemed to have been approved by a team of healthcare professionals at NUH. There is a high tolerance for pseudoscience in NHS maternity care … and it needs to stop. Women deserve high quality care, not dangerous quackery.” …
The journalist who wrote the article also asked me for a comment, and I emailed her this quote: “Aromatherapy is little more than a bit of pampering; no doubt it is enjoyable but it is not an effective therapy for anything. To use it in medical emergencies seems irresponsible to say the least.” The Times evidently decided not to include my thoughts.
Having now read the article, I checked again and failed to find good evidence for aromatherapy for any of the mentioned conditions. However, I did find an article and an announcement both of which are quite worrying, in my view:
Aromatherapy is often misunderstood and consequently somewhat marginalized. Because of a basic misinterpretation, the integration of aromatherapy into UK hospitals is not moving forward as quickly as it might. Aromatherapy in UK is primarily aimed at enhancing patient care or improving patient satisfaction, and it is frequently mixed with massage. Little focus is given to the real clinical potential, except for a few pockets such as the Micap/South Manchester University initiative which led to a Phase 1 clinical trial into the effects of aromatherapy on infection carried out in the Burns Unit of Wythenshawe Hospital. This article discusses the expansion of aromatherapy within the US and follows 10 years of developing protocols and policies that led to pilot studies on radiation burns, chemo-induced nausea, slow-healing wounds, Alzheimers and end-of-life agitation. The article poses two questions: should nursing take aromatherapy more seriously and do nurses really need 60 hours of massage to use aromatherapy as part of nursing practice?
My own views on aromatherapy are expressed in our now not entirely up-to-date review:
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oil from herbs, flowers, and other plants. The aim of this overview was to provide an overview of systematic reviews evaluating the effectiveness of aromatherapy. We searched 12 electronic databases and our departmental files without restrictions of time or language. The methodological quality of all systematic reviews was evaluated independently by two authors. Of 201 potentially relevant publications, 10 met our inclusion criteria. Most of the systematic reviews were of poor methodological quality. The clinical subject areas were hypertension, depression, anxiety, pain relief, and dementia. For none of the conditions was the evidence convincing. Several SRs of aromatherapy have recently been published. Due to a number of caveats, the evidence is not sufficiently convincing that aromatherapy is an effective therapy for any condition.
In this context, it might also be worth mentioning that we warned about the frequent usage of quackery in midwifery years ago. Here is our systematic review of 2012 published in a leading midwifery journal:
Background: in recent years, several surveys have suggested that many midwives use some form of complementary/alternative therapy (CAT), often without the knowledge of obstetricians.
Objective: to systematically review all surveys of CAT use by midwives.
Search strategy: six electronic databases were searched using text terms and MeSH for CAT and midwifery.
Selection criteria: surveys were included if they reported quantitative data on the prevalence of CAT use by midwives.
Data collection and analysis: full-text articles of all relevant surveys were obtained. Data were extracted according to pre-defined criteria.
Main results: 19 surveys met the inclusion criteria. Most were recent and from the USA. Prevalence data varied but were usually high, often close to 100%. Much use of CATs does not seem to be supported by strong evidence for efficacy.
Conclusion: most midwives seem to use CATs. As not all CATs are without risks, the issue should be debated openly.
I am tired of saying ‘I TOLD YOU SO!’ but nevertheless find it a pity that our warning remained (yet again) unheeded!
Just in case you are interested, this was my full quote in answer to the journalist’s question “The trust had guidelines recommending essential oils be used even during obstetric emergencies. Is it appropriate?
“No. It’s not appropriate. People can do, and believe, all sorts of things in their private lives. They are entitled to make choices about means of coping in labour. Noone should stop a pregnant woman or her companions using their own resources on alternative or complementary therapists or remedies. However, the NHS should not give aromatherapy this veneer of respectability by offering essential oils, particularly during emergencies The advice appears in long, detailed, faux-serious guidelines that make implausible and unsupported claims that appear to have been approved by colleagues asleep at the wheel of the governance due process. It is a waste of valuable midwifery skills and time. We know that the quality of the 1-2-1 relationship matters, not the aromatherapy recipies. Midwives should not be diverted by pseudoscience from the serious business of keeping the labouring woman at the centre of their attention”.
Is it time for my patented rant about how poor nurse education in the UK is at teaching critical thinking, assessment of evidence, how research works, scientific process and methods and all the rest (I trained using the old apprenticeship model and was involved in pilots for the then Project 2000 and then in supervising students on the more recent degree programmes)?
Not to mention how many folk think “I read it in a book!” constitutes actual research evidence…
How long have you got?
I stopped being surprised about things like this many, many years ago.
So a teaching hospital thinks it okay to publish this tosh? They’ll have an ethics committee that sweat the **** out of research proposals yet blithely publish quackery like this.