MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

regulation

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Traditional herbal medicine (THM) is frequently used in pediatric populations. This is perticularly true in many low-income countries. Yet THM has been associated with a range of adverse events, including liver toxicity, renal failure, and allergic reactions. Despite these concerns, its impact on multi-organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS) risk has so far not been thoroughly investigated.

This study aimed to investigate the incidence and predictors of MODS in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in Ethiopia, with a focus on the association between THM use and the risk of MODS. It was designed as a single-center prospective cohort study conducted at a PICU in the university of Gondar Comprehensive Specialized hospital, Northwest Ethiopia. The researchers enrolled eligible patients aged one month to 18 years admitted to the PICU during the study period. Data on demographic characteristics, medical history, clinical and laboratory data, and outcome measures using standard case record forms, physical examination, and patient document reviews. The predictors of MODS were assessed using Cox proportional hazards models, with a focus on the association between traditional herbal medicine use and the risk of MODS.

A total of 310 patients were included in the final analysis, with a median age of 48 months and a male-to-female ratio of 1.5:1. The proportion and incidence of MODS were 30.96% (95% CI:25.8, 36.6) and 7.71(95% CI: 6.10, 9.40) per 100-person-day observation respectively. Renal failure (17.74%), neurologic failure (15.16%), and heart failure (14.52%) were the leading organ failures identified. Nearly one-third of patients (32.9%) died in the PICU, of which 59.8% had MODS. The rate of mortality was higher in patients with MODS than in those without. The Cox proportional hazards model identified renal disease (AHR = 6.32 (95%CI: 3.17,12.61)), intake of traditional herbal medication (AHR = 2.45, 95% CI:1.29,4.65), modified Pediatric Index of Mortality 2 (mPIM 2) score (AHR = 1.54 (95% CI: 1.38,1.71), and critical illness diagnoses (AHR = 2.68 (95% CI: 1.77,4.07)) as predictors of MODS.

The authors concluded that the incidence of MODS was high. Renal disease, THM use, mPIM 2 scores, and critical illness diagnoses were independent predictors of MODS. A more than twofold increase in the risk of MODS was seen in patients who used TMH. Healthcare providers should be aware of risks associated with THM, and educate caregivers about the potential harms of these products. Future studies with larger sample sizes and more comprehensive outcome measures are needed.

I do fully agree with the authors about the high usage of herbal and other so-called alternative medicines by children. We have shown that, in the UK the average one-year prevalence rate was 34% and the average lifetime prevalence was 42%. We have furthermore shown that the evidence base for these treatments in children is weak, even more so than for general populations. Finally, we can confirm that adverse effects are far from rare and often serious.

It is therefore high time, I think, that national regulators do more to protect children from SCAM practitioners who are at best uncritical about their treatments and at worse outright dangerous.

The French ‘National Assembly’ has yesterday adopted a major law aimed at reinforcing the prevention and combat against sectarian aberrations in France. This marks a significant step forward in strengthening the protection of citizens against abuse and manipulation by charlatans, gurus and other sectarian movements.

This bill, the result of particularly fruitful work and debate in both chambers, reflects the Government’s commitment to meeting the expectations of the victims of these sectarian movements.

Some of the key measures voted through by parliamentarians include:

  • The enshrinement in law of the powers of MIVILUDES (Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Combat against Sectarian Aberrations);
  • The reinforcement of the penal response with the creation of the offence of placing or maintaining in a state of psychological or physical subjection;
  • The creation of an offence of incitement to abandon or refrain from treatment, or to adopt practices which clearly expose the person concerned to a serious health risk;
  • Support for victims, with the extension of the categories of associations that can bring civil action;
  • Information for the judiciary, with the introduction of an “amicus curiae” role for certain government departments in legal cases relating to cults.

Despite sometimes heated debates, particularly around article 4, fuelled by the opinion of the Conseil d’Etat, the adoption of this law by the National Assembly bears witness to a shared desire to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals while providing better protection for our fellow citizens against sectarian aberrations.

This bill is part of a multi-annual national strategy for 2023-2027 resulting from the conference on sectarian aberrations held in spring 2023. It is a major step towards strengthening the penal arsenal and protecting victims.

_______________

Sabrina Agresti-Roubache, Secretary of State for Citizenship and Urban Affairs, commented:

“Long-awaited by victim support associations, this text aims to strengthen our legal arsenal in the fight against sectarian aberrations. I’m delighted that all the articles have been adopted, particularly Article 4, which creates an offence of incitement to abandon or abstain from treatment. There have been some passionate debates in the Chamber, but I’d like to reiterate the basis of this bill: the State is not fighting against beliefs, opinions or religions, but against all forms of sectarian aberrations, these dangerous behaviors which represent a threat to our social cohesion and put lives at risk.”

_______________

Obviously, we shall have to see how the new law will be applied. But, in any case, it is an important step into the right direction and could put an end to much of so-called alternative medicine that endangers the health of French consumers.

Other nations should consicer following the Franch example.

We have often asked whether the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) is fit for purpose. A recent case bought before the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) of the GCC provides further food for thought.

The male chiropractor in question admitted to the PCC that:

  • he had requested the younger female patient remove her clothing to her underwear for the purposes of examination;
  • he then treated the area near her vagina and groin with a vibrating tool;
  • that he also treated the area around her breasts.

After the appointment, which the patient had originally booked for a problem with her neck, the patient reflected on the treatment and eventually complained about the chiropractor to the GCC. The PCC considered the case and did not find unprofessional conduct in the actions and conduct of the chiropractor. His the diagnosis and treatment were both found to be clinically justified.

According to the GCC, the lesson from this case is that the complaint to the GCC may have been avoided if the chiropractor had been more alert to the need to ensure he communicated effectively so that the patient was clear as to why the intimate areas were being treated and, on that basis, given informed consent. Patients often feel vulnerable before, during and after treatment; and this effect is magnified when the patient is unclothed, new to chiropractic treatment or the work of a particular chiropractor, or they are being treated in an intimate area. Chiropractors can reduce this feeling of vulnerability by offering a chaperone and gown (and recording a note of the patient’s response) as well as taking the time to ensure you have fully explained the procedure to them and obtained informed consentStandard D4 of the GCC Code states registrants must “Consider the need, during assessments and care, for another person to be present to act as a chaperone; particularly if the assessment or care might be considered intimate or where the patient is a child or a vulnerable adult.”

Excuse me?

I find this unbelievably gross and grossly unbelievable!

It begs, I think, the following questions:

  • What condition requires treatment with a ‘vibrating tool’ near the vagina (I assume they mean vulva)?
  • What condition requires treatment with a ‘vibrating tool’ around the breasts?
  • Is there any reliable evidence?
  • Was informed consent obtained?
  • What precisely did it entail?

About 15 years ago, I was an expert witness in a very similar UK case. The defendant was sent to prison for two years. The GCC is really not fit for purpose. It seems to consistently defend chiropractors rather than do its duty and defend their patients.

My advice to the above-mentioned patient is not to bother with the evidently useless GCC but to initiale criminal proceedings.

The so-called ‘Miracle Mineral Solution’ (MMS) – bleach for you and me – is a SCAM that keeps on giving. On this blog, we have featured MMS several times before, e.g.:

Now,it has been reported that a New Zealand anti-vaxxer has been jailed for selling more than $100,000 worth of an industrial bleach as a “miracle” cure for Covid-19. Roger Blake, who describes himself as a “human man”, was sentenced to just over 10 months’ imprisonment after being found guilty at trial of 29 charges in the Hamilton District Court.

Blake advertised and sold MMS products, claiming it could treat, prevent and cure coronavirus. However, New Zealand’s Ministry of Health had not approved the product, and detailed that when ingested became chlorine dioxide – a bleach commonly used for water treatment, bleaching textiles and paper.

The court heard Blake had marketed the product as a cure in New Zealand from the start of the pandemic between December 2019 and December 2020. Medsafe, the health ministry’s safety authority, said Blake’s company had sales of NZ$160,000 in that period – with sales spiking in March when the country was placed in lockdown.

Judge Brett Crowley said Blake’s behaviour had been “utterly disgraceful”. He added that Blake had “seized upon the tragedy” of the pandemic for financial gain. Before selling MMS as a “cure” for the coronavirus, Blake had marketed the product as a preventive of other diseases and illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and HIV.

Medsafe prosecuted him under the Medicines Act, with compliance manager Derek Fitzgerald saying the “fake cure” Blake spruiked presented a “significant public health risk”. “He targeted the vulnerable, preyed on public fears and exposed people to harm”, he said. “This decision sends a strong message that people who engage in selling so called ‘miracle cures’ will be held to account and face fines or imprisonment.”

The website which sold MMS in New Zealand was registered to US-based Mark Grenon, who set up the “Genesis II Church of Health and Healing”. As reported previously, Grenon and his three sons were jailed in October for several years in the US for selling more than US$1m of the product. Michael Homer, an assistant US lawyer who prosecuted the case, said at the time the family targeted people suffering from life-threatening illnesses. The Grenons poisoned thousands of people with their bogus miracle cure, which was nothing more than industrial bleach,” he said.

Medsafe warns: “Drinking MMS is the same as drinking bleach and can cause dangerous side effects, including severe vomiting, diarrhoea, and life-threatening low blood pressure. We strongly encourage people to only go to trusted sources, such as your doctor, to get reliable information”.

Medsafe received three reports of people requiring hospitalizations after drinking MMS. “His conduct presented a significant risk to public health, and that is why Medsafe acted. His actions were in stark contrast to the requirements of the Medicines Act 1981, which is public welfare legislation designed to protect the public” said Mr Fitzgerald.

This review aimed to investigate and categorize the causes and consequences of ‘quack medicine’ in the healthcare.

A scoping review, using the 5 stages of Arksey and O’Malley’s framework, was conducted to retrieve and analyze the literature. International databases including the PubMed, Scopus, Embase and Web of Science and also national Iranian databases were searched to find peer reviewed published literature in English and Persian languages. Grey literature was also included. Meta-Synthesis was applied to analyze the findings through an inductive approach.

Out of 3794 initially identified studies, 30 were selected for this review. Based on the findings of this research, the causes of quackery in the health were divided into six categories:

  • political,
  • economic,
  • socio-cultural,
  • technical-organizational,
  • legal,
  • and psychological.

Additionally, the consequences of this issue were classified into three categories:

  • health,
  • economic,
  • and social.

Economic and social factors were found to have the most significant impact on the prevalence of quackery in the health sector. Legal and technical-organizational factors played a crucial role in facilitating fraudulent practices, resulting in severe health consequences.

The authors concluded that it is evident that governing bodies and health systems must prioritize addressing economic and social factors in combating quackery in the health sector. Special attention should be paid to the issue of cultural development and community education to strengthen the mechanisms that lead to the society access to standard affordable services. Efforts should be made also to improve the efficiency of legislation, implementation and evaluation systems to effectively tackle this issue.

The authors point out that, in the health systems, particularly those of developing countries, a phenomenon known as “Quack Medicine” has been a persistent problem, causing harm in various branches of health care services. They define quackery as unproven or fraudulent medical practices that have no scientifically plausible rationale behind them. Someone who does not have professional qualification, formal registration from a legitimated institution, or required knowledge of a particular branch of medicine but practices in the field of medicine, is a quack, according to the authors’ definition. Finally, they define quack medicine as a fraudulent practice of quacks claiming to possess the ability and experience to diagnose and treat diseases, and pretending that the medicine or treatment they provide are effective, generally for personal and financial gain.

The authors rightly point out that, in some countries, there may be a lack of willpower, determination and effort among political leaders to deal with and prevent fraud and charlatanism in various fields, especially in the health system. This can be due to conflict of interests, corruption network, or insufficient infrastructure and resources, such as financial capacity and human resources. In some cases, they stress, policy makers may choose to tolerate small levels of unproven medical practices if the cost of prosecuting and correcting the situation outweigh the financial benefits. This can lead to a cycle of continued fraud and a lack of effective interventions to address the issue. In many countries laws against quack medicine do exist. However, their effectiveness depends on proper and strict implementation. More efforts and measures must be taken to implement the existing laws. Inadequate enforcement of laws and approval of pseudo-medicine can result in people receiving improper care.

The authors recommend that the healthcare systems, prioritize addressing economic and sociocultural factors in order to effectively combat this issue. In developing solutions, attention must be given to cultural development and community education, and efforts should be made to strengthen mechanisms that provide access to affordable, standard healthcare services for all. Lastly, it is crucial to enhance the performance of systems responsible for legislation, implementation and evaluation of laws and regulations related to quack medicine.

I have been banging on about informed consent many times; not because I have a bee in my bonnet, I hope, but because it is of vital importance. Here are a few examples:

I am convinced that informed consent is a key issue in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Thus I was delighted to find an article that fully agrees with my view. Even though it has been published a few years ago, it is, I feel, important enough to cite it here:

The demand for informed consent in clinical medicine is usually justified on the basis that it promotes patient autonomy. In this article I argue that the most effective way to promote autonomy is to improve patient understanding in order to reduce the epistemic disparity between patient and medical professional. Informed consent therefore derives its moral value from its capacity to reduce inequalities of power as they derive from epistemic inequalities. So in order for a patient to have given informed consent, she must understand the treatment. I take this to mean that she has sufficient knowledge of its causal mechanisms and has accepted the explanations in which the treatment is implicated. If this interpretation of informed consent is correct, it is unethical for medical professionals to offer or endorse ‘alternative medicine’ treatments, for which there is no known causal mechanism, for if they do, they may end up widening the epistemic disparity. In this way, informed consent may be understood as an effective way of ruling out particular treatments in order to improve patient autonomy and maintain trust in the medical profession.

In other words, if we apply one of the most fundamental rule of medical ethics to SCAM, it would bring about the end of most of SCAM. If we fail to do this, we accept that SCAM is unethical which, in my view, is not a reasonable option.

Since the introduction of their new Education Standards in March 2023, the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) has been working with chiropractic education providers to support them in implementing the changes to their curricula. Recently, the GCC have stated this:

We expect students to be taught evidence-based practice: integrating individual clinical expertise, the best available evidence from current and credible clinical research, and the values and preferences of patients. Chiropractors are important members of a patient’s healthcare team, and interprofessional approaches enable the best outcomes. Programmes that meet these Standards will teach ethical, professional care and produce competent healthcare professionals who can serve the needs of patients.

These are indeed most encouraging words!

Basically, they are saying that chiropractic education will now have to be solidly based on the principles of evidence-based medicine (EBM) as well as sound medical ethics. Let me spell out what this really means. Chiropractic courses must teach that:

  • The current and credible clinical evidence suggesting that spinal manipulations, the hallmark intervention of chiropractors, are effective is weak for back pain and negative or absent for all other conditions.
  • The current and credible clinical evidence suggests that spinal manipulations, the hallmark intervention of chiropractors, can cause harm which in many instances is serious.
  • The current and credible clinical evidence thus suggests that the risk/benefit balance for spinal manipulations, the hallmark intervention of chiropractors, is not positive.
  • Medical ethics require that competent healthcare professionals inform their patients that spinal manipulations, the hallmark intervention of chiropractors, may not generate more good than harm which is the reason why they cannot employ these therapies.

So, the end of chiropractic in the UK is looming!

Unless, of course, the GCC’s words are not really meant to be translated into action. They could be just window dressing and politically correct bullshit. But that’ s really far too far fetched – after all they come from the GENERAL CHIROPRACTIC COUNCIL, known for its excellent track record, e.g.:

Need to find a last-minute Christmas present?

What about the ‘libido-boosting soft drink G Spot? That surely would make a wonderful holiday season (provided the drink does not get highjacked by your mother-in-law). Here is more info, in case you are interested:

Launched in May 2023, the line of plant-based sparkling drinks include “life-enhancing adaptogens and nootropics that invigorate and boost performance and cognitive functions”.

“I’ve had a serious soft drink habit for the past 20 years, and I don’t drink enough water,” Gillian Anderson (OBE), the firm’s founder and brain behind the drinks, said. “I know sugar and caffeine are not good for me, but I haven’t found an alternative that has the same effect. And although I love the idea of flavoured water, I really don’t like the taste of what’s out there. So, I thought, if what I’m looking for doesn’t exist, why don’t I make it?”

Arouse, specifically, has been designed to “awaken your senses” with Passionfruit, White Peach and Habanero, blended expertly with functional ingredients, including: Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea), a plant species used in traditional medicine as an aphrodisiac; I-Arginine and I-Citrulline, amino acids which increase blood flow to sexual organs to improve libido; and Vitamin B6, a nutrient that regulates sexual hormones.

“At G Spot, we believe wellness is due a fresh take. One that’s less intense and anxiety inducing. One that truly makes you feel good, without guilt or inhibition. Our newest drink, Arouse, embodies our commitment to this philosophy. Arouse isn’t just a flavour; it’s an experience!” says CEO Rebekah Hall.

Named after their intended effects, the rest of the line comes in the form of Lift, combining berry, apply and peppercorn flavors with the wellbeing benefits of bacopa, theanine, cordyceps, and lion’s mane (boosting energy levels, stamina, and brain power while also combating stress); Protect, blending meadowsweet, ginger, lemon, turmeric, peppercorn and chaga (offering additional immune system-boosting benefits)’ and Soothe, which combines apples, sage, and cornflower with magnesium, maca, reishi, and ashwagandha (which works to relax the body as it benefits from the brand-wide libido boost).

All G Spot drinks available online in 6- and 12-pack bundles (250ml per can), as well as in Harvey Nichols (in-store and online) in the UK.

Prices range from £3.50 to £29.99 ($4.28 to $36.54).

The drinks are advertised to invigorate and boost performance and cognitive functions.

Any evidence for these medicinal claims?

Sadly not – at least I could not find any.

A case for the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA)?

Possibly!

 

As promised, here is my translation of the article published yesterday in ‘Le Figaro’ arguing in favour of integrating so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) into the French healthcare system [the numbers in square brackets were inserted by me and refer to my comments listed at the bottom].

So-called unconventional healthcare practices (osteopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, homeopathy and hypnosis, according to the Ministry of Health) are a cause for concern for the health authorities and Miviludes, which in June 2023 set up a committee to support the supervision of unconventional healthcare practices, with the task of informing consumers, patients and professionals about their benefits and risks, both in the community and in hospitals. At the time, various reports, surveys and press articles highlighted the risks associated with NHPs, without pointing to their potential benefits [1] in many indications, provided they are properly supervised. There was panic about the “booming” use of these practices, the “explosion” of aberrations, and the “boost effect” of the pandemic [2].

But what are the real figures? Apart from osteopathy, we lack reliable data in France to confirm a sharp increase in the use of these practices [3]. In Switzerland, where it has been decided to integrate them into university hospitals and to regulate the status of practitioners who are not health professionals, the use of NHPs has increased very slightly [4]. With regard to health-related sectarian aberrations, referrals to Miviludes have been stable since 2017 (around 1,000 per year), but it should be pointed out that they are a poor indicator of the “risk” associated with NHPs (unlike reports). The obvious contrast between the figures and the press reports raises questions [5]. Are we witnessing a drift in communication about the risks of ‘alternative’ therapies? [6] Is this distortion of reality [7] necessary in order to justify altering the informed information and freedom of therapeutic choice of patients, which are ethical and democratic imperatives [8]?

It is the inappropriate use of certain NHPs that constitutes a risk, more than the NHPs themselves! [9] Patients who hope to cure their cancer with acupuncture alone and refuse anti-cancer treatments are clearly using it in a dangerous alternative way [10]. However, acupuncture used to relieve nausea caused by chemotherapy, as a complement to the latter, is recommended by the French Association for Supportive Care [11]. The press is full of the dangers of alternative uses, but they are rare: less than 5% of patients treated for cancer according to a European study [12]. This is still too many. Supervision would reduce this risk even further [13].

Talking about risky use is therefore more relevant than listing “illusory therapies”, vaguely defined as “not scientifically validated” and which are by their very nature “risky” [14]. What’s more, it suggests that conventional treatments are always validated and risk-free [15]. But this is not true! In France, iatrogenic drug use is estimated to cause over 200,000 hospital admissions and 10,000 deaths a year [16]. Yes, some self-medication with phytotherapy or aromatherapy does carry risks… just like any self-medication with conventional medicines [17]. Yes, acupuncture can cause deep organ damage, but these accidents occur in fewer than 5 out of every 100,000 patients [18]. Yes, cervical manipulations by osteopaths can cause serious or even fatal injuries, but these exceptional situations are caused by practitioners who do not comply with the decree governing their practice.[19] Yes, patients can be swindled by charlatans, but there are also therapeutic and financial abuses in conventional medicine, such as those reported in dental and ophthalmology centres. [20]

Are patients really that naive? No. 56% are aware that “natural” remedies can have harmful side-effects, and 70% know that there is a risk of sectarian aberrations or of patients being taken in by a sect [21]. In view of the strong demand from patients, we believe that guaranteeing safe access to certain NHPs is an integral part of their supervision, based on regulation of the training and status of practitioners who are not health professionals, transparent communication, appropriate research, the development of hospital services and outpatient networks of so-called “integrative” medicine combining conventional practices and NHPs, structured care pathways with qualified professionals, precise indications and a safe context for treatment.[22] This pragmatic approach to reducing risky drug use [17] has demonstrated its effectiveness in addictionology [23]. It should inspire decision-makers in the use of NHPs”.

  1. Reports about things going wrong usually do not include benefits. For instance, for a report about rail strikes it would be silly to include a paragraph on the benefits of rail transport. Moreover, it is possible that the benefits were not well documented or even non-existent.
  2. No, there was no panic but some well-deserved criticism and concern.
  3. Would it not be the task of practitioners to provide reliable data of their growth or decline?
  4. The situation in Switzerland is often depicted by enthusiasts as speaking in favour of SCAM; however, the reality is very different.
  5. Even if reports were exaggerated, the fact is that the SCAM community does as good as nothing to prevent abuse.
  6. For decades, these therapies were depicted as gentle and harmless (medicines douces!). As they can cause harm, it is high time that there is a shift in reporting and consumers are informed responsibly.
  7. What seems a ‘distortion of reality’ to enthusiasts might merely be a shift to responsible reporting akin to that in conventional medicine where emerging risks are taken seriously.
  8. Are you saying that informing consumers about risks is not an ethical imperative? I’d argue it is an imperative that outweighs all others.
  9. What if both the inappropriate and the appropriate use involve risks?
  10.  Sadly, there are practitioners who advocate this type of usage.
  11. The recommendation might be outdated; current evidence is far less certain that this treatment might be effective (“the certainty of evidence was generally low or very low“)
  12. The dangers depend on a range of factors, not least the nature of the therapy; in case of spinal manipulation, for instance, about 50% of all patients suffer adverse effects which can be severe, even fatal.
  13. Do you have any evidence showing that supervision would reduce this risk, or is this statement based on wishful thinking?
  14. As my previous comments demonstrate, this statement is erroneous.
  15. No, it does not.
  16. Even if this figure is correct, we need to look at the risk/benefit balance. How many lives were saved by conventional medicine?
  17. Again: please look at the risk/benefit balance.
  18. How can you be confident about these figures in the absence of any post-marketing surveillance system? The answer is, you cannot!
  19. No, they occur even with well-trained practitioners who comply with all the rules and regulations that exist – spoiler: there hardly are any rules and regulations!
  20. Correct! But this is a fallacious argument that has nothing to do with SCAM. Please read up about the ‘tu quoque’ and the strawman’ fallacies.
  21. If true, that is good news. Yet, it is impossible to deny that thousands of websites try to convince the consumer that SCAM is gentle and safe.
  22. Strong demand is not a substitute for reliable evidence. In any case, you stated above that demand is not increasing, didn’t you?
  23. Effectiveness in addictionology? Do you have any evidence for this or is that statement also based on wishful thinking?

My conclusion after analysing this article in detail is that it is poorly argued, based on misunderstandings, errors, and wishful thinking. It cannot possibly convince rational thinkers that SCAM should be integrated into conventional healthcare.

PS

The list of signatories can be found in the original paper.

“Le Figaro” has published two articles (one contra and one pro) authored by ‘NoFakeMed’ (an association of health professionals warning of the danger of fake medicine) signed by a long list of healthcare professionals (including myself) who argue that so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) should be excluded from public healthcare. It relates to the fact that, since last June, a committee set up by the French government has been bringing together opponents and supporters of SCAM. At the heart of the debate is the question of how SCAMs should be regulated, and the place they should occupy in the realm of healthcare. Should they be included or excluded?

Here is the piece arguing for EXCLUSION (my translation):

They’re called alternative medicine, complementary medicine, parallel medicine, alternative medicine, SCAM, and other fancy words. The authorities prefer to call them “non-conventional healthcare practices” (NCSP), or “non-conventional health practices” (NCHP). The choice of terminology is more than just a parochial quarrel: it’s a question of knowing what quality of medicine we want, and whether we agree to endorse illusory techniques whose main argument is their popularity. This raises the question of how to regulate these practices. Some people want to force them into the healthcare system, hospitals, health centres and nursing homes. And they are prepared to use all manner of oratory and caricature to legitimise questionable practices.

Unconventional healthcare practices are on the up, and the number of practitioners and practices has been rising steadily since the 2000s; there are now around 400 therapeutic NHPs. But their success is often due to a lack of understanding of the philosophy behind them, and their lack of effectiveness beyond context effects. This was seen in the debate surrounding homeopathy, which lost much of the confidence placed in it as soon as it stopped to be reimbursed in France and was confronted with the work of popularising it on its own merits among the general public. The ethical imperative of respect for patients means providing them with reliable information so that they can make a free and informed choice.

This raises the question of the place or otherwise to be given to NHPs within the healthcare system. Although there are many different names for them, they are all practices that claim to relate to care and well-being, without having been proven to be effective, and based on theories that are not supported by scientific evidence. Admittedly, the evidence is evolving, and a practice can demonstrate its usefulness in healthcare. This is true, for instance, of hypnosis, whose usefulness as a tool in certain situations is no longer debated since it has become possible to measure and explain both its benefits and its limitations.

However, there is no question of legitimising the entire range of NHPs on the pretext that they are supposedly harmless. Many of them do have adverse effects, sometimes serious, either directly or because they lead to a lack of care. These effects also exist with conventional treatments, but the risks must always be weighed against the proven benefits. The risks associated with NHPs are therefore unacceptable, given their ineffectiveness.

Furthermore, there are abuses associated with NHPs, even if (fortunately!) they are not frequent. Sectarian aberrations are not systematically linked to NHPs, but here again the risk is unacceptable. In its 2021 activity report, Miviludes indicates that 25% of referrals concern the field of health, and that 70% of these relate to SCAM. The number of health-related referrals has risen from 365 in 2010 to 842 in 2015, and exceed 1,000 in 2021.

Conventional medicine is of course not immune to such aberrations, and Miviludes estimates that 3,000 doctors are linked to a sectarian aberration. But the health professional associations have tackled the problem head-on, notably by setting up a partnership with Miviludes and multiple safeguards (verification of diplomas and authorisation to practise, obligation to undergo continuing training, codes of ethics and public health codes, professional justice, declaration of links of interest, etc.). The professional associations have raised awareness of sexual and gender-based violence, universities are providing training in critical reading of scientific articles, and community initiatives are flourishing to improve public information.

We agree that the choices of our patients must be respected, and everyone has recourse to the wellness practices of their choice. But, at the same time, patients have the right when they consult a healthcare professional, a hospital or a health centre, to know that they will be looked after by healthcare professionals offering conscientious, dedicated, evidence-based care.

In view of the current challenges facing our healthcare system, the response must not be to offer more pseudo-medicine on the pretext that people are already using it. The real answer is to rely on evidence, to provide resources for more research, to continue with research, to rely on social work, not to neglect mental health, to improve disease prevention, and to keep pressure groups at bay, whether they come from pharmaceutical companies or the promoters of esoteric, costly and sometimes dangerous practices.

___________________________

Tomorrow, I will translate and comment on the pro-piece that ‘Le Figaro’ today published alongside this article.

 

PS

The list of signatories can be found in the origninal paper.

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