Edzard Ernst

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

WARNING: SATIRE

This is going to be a very short post. Yet, I am sure you agree that my ‘golden rules’ encapsulate the collective wisdom of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM):

  1. Conventional treatments are dangerous
  2. Conventional doctors are ignorant
  3. Natural remedies are by definition good
  4. Ancient wisdom knows best
  5. SCAM tackles the roots of all health problems
  6. Experience trumps evidence
  7. People vote with their feet (SCAM’s popularity and patients’ satisfaction prove SCAM’s effectiveness)
  8. Science is barking up the wrong tree (what we need is a paradigm shift)
  9. Even Nobel laureates and other VIPs support SCAM
  10. Only SCAM practitioners care about the whole individual (mind, body, and soul)
  11. Science is not yet sufficiently advanced to understand how SCAM works (the mode of action has not been discovered)
  12. SCAM even works for animals (and thus cannot be a placebo)
  13. There is reliable evidence to support SCAM
  14. If a study of SCAM happens to yield a negative result, it is false-negative (e.g. because SCAM was not correctly applied)
  15. SCAM is patient-centered
  16. Conventional medicine is money-orientated
  17. The establishment is forced to suppress SCAM because otherwise, they would go out of business
  18. SCAM is reliable, constant, and unwavering (whereas conventional medicine changes its views all the time)
  19. SCAM does not need a monitoring system for adverse effects because it is inherently safe
  20. SCAM treatments are individualized (they treat the patient and not just a diagnostic label like conventional medicine)
  21. SCAM could save us all a lot of money
  22. There is no health problem that SCAM cannot cure
  23. Practitioners of conventional medicine have misunderstood the deeper reasons why people fall ill and should learn from SCAM

QED

I am sure that I have forgotten several important rules. If you can think of any, please post them in the comments section.

The objective of this study was to compare chronic low back pain patients’ perspectives on the use of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) compared to prescription drug therapy (PDT) with regard to health-related quality of life (HRQoL), patient beliefs, and satisfaction with treatment.

Four cohorts of Medicare beneficiaries were assembled according to previous treatment received as evidenced in claims data:

  1. The SMT group began long-term management with SMT but no prescribed drugs.
  2. The PDT group began long-term management with prescription drug therapy but no spinal manipulation.
  3. This group employed SMT for chronic back pain, followed by initiation of long-term management with PDT in the same year.
  4. This group used PDT for chronic back pain followed by initiation of long-term management with SMT in the same year.

A total of 1986 surveys were sent out and 195 participants completed the survey. The respondents were predominantly female and white, with a mean age of approx. 77-78 years. Outcome measures used were a 0-to-10 numeric rating scale to measure satisfaction, the Low Back Pain Treatment Beliefs Questionnaire to measure patient beliefs, and the 12-item Short-Form Health Survey to measure HRQoL.

Recipients of SMT were more likely to be very satisfied with their care (84%) than recipients of PDT (50%; P = .002). The SMT cohort self-reported significantly higher HRQoL compared to the PDT cohort; mean differences in physical and mental health scores on the 12-item Short Form Health Survey were 12.85 and 9.92, respectively. The SMT cohort had a lower degree of concern regarding chiropractic care for their back pain compared to the PDT cohort’s reported concern about PDT (P = .03).

The authors concluded that among older Medicare beneficiaries with chronic low back pain, long-term recipients of SMT had higher self-reported rates of HRQoL and greater satisfaction with their modality of care than long-term recipients of PDT. Participants who had longer-term management of care were more likely to have positive attitudes and beliefs toward the mode of care they received.

The main issue here is that the ‘study’ was a mere survey which by definition cannot establish cause and effect. The groups were different in many respects which rendered them not comparable. For instance, participants who received SMT had higher self-reported physical and mental health on average than those who received PDT. Differences also existed between the SMT and the PDT groups for agreement with the notion that “spinal manipulation for LBP makes a lot of sense”; 96% of the SMT group and 35% of the PDT group agreed with it. Compare this with another statement, “taking /having prescription drug therapy for LBP makes a lot of sense” and we find that only 13% of the SMT cohort agreed with, 95% of the PDT cohort agreed. Thus, a powerful bias exists toward the type of therapy that each person had chosen. Another determinant of the outcome is the fact that SMT means hands-on treatments with time, compassion, and empathy given to the patient, whereas PDT does not necessarily include such features. Add to these limitations the dismal response rate, recall bias, and numerous potential confounders and you have a survey that is hardly worth the paper it is printed on. In fact, it is little more than a marketing exercise for chiropractic.

In summary, the findings of this survey are influenced by a whole range of known and unknown factors other than the SMT. The authors are clever to avoid causal inferences in their conclusions. I doubt, however, that many chiropractors reading the paper think critically enough to do the same.

This study describes the use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) among older adults who report being hampered in daily activities due to musculoskeletal pain. The characteristics of older adults with debilitating musculoskeletal pain who report SCAM use is also examined. For this purpose, the cross-sectional European Social Survey Round 7 from 21 countries was employed. It examined participants aged 55 years and older, who reported musculoskeletal pain that hampered daily activities in the past 12 months.

Of the 4950 older adult participants, the majority (63.5%) were from the West of Europe, reported secondary education or less (78.2%), and reported at least one other health-related problem (74.6%). In total, 1657 (33.5%) reported using at least one SCAM treatment in the previous year.

The most commonly used SCAMs were:

  • manual body-based therapies (MBBTs) including massage therapy (17.9%),
  • osteopathy (7.0%),
  • homeopathy (6.5%)
  • herbal treatments (5.3%).

SCAM use was positively associated with:

  • younger age,
  • physiotherapy use,
  • female gender,
  • higher levels of education,
  • being in employment,
  • living in West Europe,
  • multiple health problems.

(Many years ago, I have summarized the most consistent determinants of SCAM use with the acronym ‘FAME‘ [female, affluent, middle-aged, educated])

The authors concluded that a third of older Europeans with musculoskeletal pain report SCAM use in the previous 12 months. Certain subgroups with higher rates of SCAM use could be identified. Clinicians should comprehensively and routinely assess SCAM use among older adults with musculoskeletal pain.

I often mutter about the plethora of SCAM surveys that report nothing meaningful. This one is better than most. Yet, much of what it shows has been demonstrated before.

I think what this survey confirms foremost is the fact that the popularity of a particular SCAM and the evidence that it is effective are two factors that are largely unrelated. In my view, this means that more, much more, needs to be done to inform the public responsibly. This would entail making it much clearer:

  • which forms of SCAM are effective for which condition or symptom,
  • which are not effective,
  • which are dangerous,
  • and which treatment (SCAM or conventional) has the best risk/benefit balance.

Such information could help prevent unnecessary suffering (the use of ineffective SCAMs must inevitably lead to fewer symptoms being optimally treated) as well as reduce the evidently huge waste of money spent on useless SCAMs.

There is hardly a form of therapy under the SCAM umbrella that is not promoted for back pain. None of them is backed by convincing evidence. This might be because back problems are mostly viewed in SCAM as mechanical by nature, and psychological elements are thus often neglected.

This systematic review with network meta-analysis determined the comparative effectiveness and safety of psychological interventions for chronic low back pain. Randomised controlled trials comparing psychological interventions with any comparison intervention in adults with chronic, non-specific low back pain were included.

A total of 97 randomised controlled trials involving 13 136 participants and 17 treatment nodes were included. Inconsistency was detected at short term and mid-term follow-up for physical function, and short term follow-up for pain intensity, and were resolved through sensitivity analyses. For physical function, cognitive behavioural therapy (standardised mean difference 1.01, 95% confidence interval 0.58 to 1.44), and pain education (0.62, 0.08 to 1.17), delivered with physiotherapy care, resulted in clinically important improvements at post-intervention (moderate-quality evidence). The most sustainable effects of treatment for improving physical function were reported with pain education delivered with physiotherapy care, at least until mid-term follow-up (0.63, 0.25 to 1.00; low-quality evidence). No studies investigated the long term effectiveness of pain education delivered with physiotherapy care. For pain intensity, behavioural therapy (1.08, 0.22 to 1.94), cognitive behavioural therapy (0.92, 0.43 to 1.42), and pain education (0.91, 0.37 to 1.45), delivered with physiotherapy care, resulted in clinically important effects at post-intervention (low to moderate-quality evidence). Only behavioural therapy delivered with physiotherapy care maintained clinically important effects on reducing pain intensity until mid-term follow-up (1.01, 0.41 to 1.60; high-quality evidence).

Forest plot of network meta-analysis results for physical function at post-intervention. *Denotes significance at p<0.05. BT=behavioural therapy; CBT=cognitive behavioural therapy; Comb psych=combined psychological approaches; Csl=counselling; GP care=general practitioner care; PE=pain education; SMD=standardised mean difference. Physiotherapy care was the reference comparison group

 

The authors concluded that for people with chronic, non-specific low back pain, psychological interventions are most effective when delivered in conjunction with physiotherapy care (mainly structured exercise). Pain education programmes (low to moderate-quality evidence) and behavioural therapy (low to high-quality evidence) result in the most sustainable effects of treatment; however, uncertainty remains as to their long term effectiveness. Although inconsistency was detected, potential sources were identified and resolved.

The authors’ further comment that their review has identified that pain education, behavioural therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy are the most effective psychological interventions for people with chronic, non-specific LBP post-intervention when delivered with physiotherapy care. The most sustainable effects of treatment for physical function and fear avoidance are achieved with pain education programmes, and for pain intensity, they are achieved with behavioural therapy. Although their clinical effectiveness diminishes over time, particularly in the long term (≥12 months post-intervention), evidence supports the clinical benefits of combining physiotherapy care with these specific types of psychological interventions at the onset of treatment. The small total sample size at long term follow-up (eg, for physical function, n=6986 at post-intervention v n=2469 for long term follow-up; for pain intensity, n=6963 v n=2272) has resulted in wide confidence intervals at this time point; however, the magnitude and direction of the pooled effects seemed to consistently favour the psychological interventions delivered with physiotherapy care, compared with physiotherapy care alone.

Commenting on their paper, two of the authors, Ferriera and Ho, said they would like to see the guidelines on LBP therapy updated to provide more specific recommendations, the “whole idea” is to inform patients, so they can have conversations with their GP or physiotherapist. Patients should not come to consultations with a passive attitude of just receiving whatever people tell them because unfortunately people still receive the wrong care for chronic back pain,” Ferreira says. “Clinicians prescribe anti-inflammatories or paracetamol. We need to educate patients and clinicians about options and more effective ways of managing pain.”

Is there a lesson here for patients consulting SCAM practitioners for their back pain? Perhaps it is this: it is wise to choose the therapy that has been demonstrated to be effective while having the least potential for harm! And this is not chiropractic or any other form of SCAM. It could, however, well be a combination of physiotherapeutic exercise and psychological therapy.

S-adenosyl methionine – SAMe for short – is a popular dietary supplement available freely via the Internet. It is a naturally occurring methyl radical donor involved in enzymatic transmethylation reactions in humans and animals. It has been used for treating postpartum depression, cholestatic jaundice, osteoarthritis, and numerous other conditions. SAM-e has poor oral bioavailability. SAM-e has so far been thought of as safe. The most frequent adverse effects reported were gastrointestinal, such as nausea, and skin rashes.

I have been involved in two systematic reviews that produced positive evidence for the effectiveness of SAMe:

Now the safety of SAMe has been questioned by new research. A team from Manchester and Kyoto universities reported that the supplement can break down inside the body into substances that cause a wide range of medical problems, including kidney and liver damage. Their study showed that “excess S-adenosylmethionine disrupts rhythms and, rather than promoting methylation, is catabolized to adenine and methylthioadenosine, toxic methylation inhibitors.”

Jean-Michel Fustin, of Manchester University, said experiments that he and his collaborators had carried out had revealed that SAMe breaks down into adenine and methylthioadenosine in the body. These substances are known to be toxic, he added. “This discovery came out of the blue,” Fustin said last week. “When we gave the supplement to mice we expected they would become healthier. But instead we found the opposite. We found that when SAMe breaks down in the body, it produces very toxic molecules, including adenine which causes gout, kidney disease and liver disease.” Fustin added that, although their study was carried out on mice, their results were relevant for humans. “We have not yet tested the supplement on men and women but we have added it to human cells in laboratory cultures and have found it had the same effect as it had on mice.”

Their study, which was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, makes it clear that the health benefits of SAMe are questionable, to say the very least, Fustin added. “It is unclear what dose of it might be safe, so there is a good chance that a safe dose will be exceeded if someone takes this supplement – if a safe dose exists at all.”

This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial investigated whether homeopathic Hypericum leads to a reduction in postoperative pain and a decrease in pain medication compared with placebo. Inpatients undergoing lumbar sequestrectomy surgery were given the homeopathic treatment Hypericum C200 or a placebo in addition to usual pain management. The primary endpoint was pain relief measured with a visual analog scale. Secondary endpoints were the reduction of inpatient postoperative analgesic medication and change in sensory and affective pain perception.

The baseline characteristics were comparable between the two groups. Pain perception between baseline and day 3 did not significantly differ between the study arms. With respect to pain medication, total morphine equivalent doses did not differ significantly. However, a statistical trend and a moderate effect (d = 0.432) in the decrease of pain medication consumption in favor of the Hypericum group was observed.

The authors concluded that this is the first trial of homeopathy that evaluated the efficacy of Hypericum C200 after lumbar monosegmental spinal sequestrectomy. Although no significant differences between the groups could be shown, we found that patients who took potentiated Hypericum in addition to usual pain management showed lower consumption of analgesics. Further investigations, especially with regard to pain medication, should follow to better classify the described analgesic reduction.

I applaud the authors from the Institute of Integrative Medicine, Witten/Herdecke University, Herdecke, Germany (not an institution known for its objectivity in SCAM) to have published this negative study in a journal that is so clearly pro-SCAM that it very rarely contains anything in its pages that is not positive about SCAM. Yet, I am baffled by two things:

  1. The plant Hypericum is used in SCAM as a painkiller. According to the ‘like cures like’ axiom of homeopathy, it should thus INCREASE the pain of post-op patients.
  2. The researchers used a C 200 potency. I ask myself, how can anyone assume that such a dilution has any effect at all? C200 means that the plant tincture is diluted at a ratio of 1: 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000. Less than one molecule of the plant per several universes!

To believe that such a dilution might work, one really needs to be a convinced disciple of Hahnemann. Yet, to disregard the ‘like cures like’ axiom, one needs to be what he called ‘a traitor’ to his true art of healing.

I think this press release might interest you:

Science advocates have filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against Boiron, Inc., one of the largest manufacturers of homeopathic products in the world, for deceiving vulnerable consumers with useless products dressed up to look like real medicine. The Center for Inquiry (CFI), which fights on behalf of consumers against pseudoscience, says Boiron routinely made false claims about what its products will treat and heal, misleading the public about the absurd pseudoscientific basis for Boiron products, and even lying about the ingredients their products contain.

“The facts could not be more clear. Boiron profits massively by deceiving consumers in their time of need,” said CFI Vice President and Legal Counsel Nick Little. “Boiron knows its products are worthless junk, so they do everything they can to obscure the truth in order to offload their snake oil upon the unwitting, the ill-informed, and the vulnerable. They can’t be allowed to get away with it any longer.”

Adherents of homeopathy claim, without evidence, that a substance which causes harm to a healthy person will cure anyone else suffering the same type of harm. In homeopathic products, the “active” ingredients are highly diluted mixtures of the so-called cures; the ingredient ends up so diluted, often literally no trace of the original substance remains. Manufacturers like Boiron then sell miniscule amounts of the already incredibly diluted ingredients and promise astounding results.

In its lawsuit, brought under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, CFI alleges that Boiron sold a plethora of materially identical products, each made up of sugar pills and powders. Despite no scientifically detectable active ingredient, Boiron falsely promised consumers that each item would treat and cure a particular illness, injury, or health condition.

“Boiron sells little pills of sugar with grandiose claims. It’s hard to believe anyone would try to pass off such junk as a surefire way to treat painful skin problems, heal mental health issues, and even to counteract menopause,” said CFI Staff Attorney Aaron D. Green. “But Boiroin has been doing just that by tricking consumers into risking their health and throwing away their money on its fancy faux ‘medicines.’ It’s time for Boiron and all homeopathy hucksters to be held accountable.”

In its complaint, CFI notes that Boiron sells Saccharum officinale as a treatment for “nervous agitation in children after overindulgence.”

“Most parents would rightfully be skeptical of this product if Boiron told them what Saccharum officinale actually is,” said Green. “Table sugar.”

According to recent industry accounts, 85 percent of consumers who purchased homeopathic products did not realize they were homeopathic, and nine out of ten consumers did not even know what the term homeopathic meant.

Apart from selling products they know are useless, Boiron also misrepresented the products’ ingredients. Four Boiron products were analyzed by an independent lab, and, not only were no traces of the supposed active ingredient found, even one of the inactive ingredients could not be scientifically detected.

The Center for Inquiry is currently engaged in other lawsuits regarding homeopathy, including consumer protection cases against megaretailers CVS and Walmart for their sale and marketing of homeopathic products, the matter recently heard by the DC Court of Appeals. CFI is also engaged in an active Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that demands the Department of Health and Human Services grant the public access to the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS), the “bible of homeopathy” upon which federal regulation of homeopathy is based and to which the industry restricts access but for those willing to pay thousands of dollars for the privilege.

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All I can add to this is: good luck to the CFI and let’s hope reason will prevail!

The Lancet is a top medical journal, no doubt. But even such journals can make mistakes, even big ones, as the Wakefield story illustrates. But sometimes, the mistakes are seemingly minor and so well hidden that the casual reader is unlikely to find them. Such mistakes can nevertheless be equally pernicious, as they might propagate untruths or misunderstandings that have far-reaching consequences.

A recent Lancet paper might be an example of this phenomenon. It is entitled “Management of common clinical problems experienced by survivors of cancer“, unquestionably an important subject. Its abstract reads as follows:

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Improvements in early detection and treatment have led to a growing prevalence of survivors of cancer worldwide.
Models of care fail to address adequately the breadth of physical, psychosocial, and supportive care needs of those who survive cancer. In this Series paper, we summarise the evidence around the management of common clinical problems experienced by survivors of adult cancers and how to cover these issues in a consultation. Reviewing the patient’s history of cancer and treatments highlights potential long-term or late effects to consider, and recommended surveillance for recurrence. Physical consequences of specific treatments to identify include cardiac dysfunction, metabolic syndrome, lymphoedema, peripheral neuropathy, and osteoporosis. Immunotherapies can cause specific immune-related effects most commonly in the gastrointestinal tract, endocrine system, skin, and liver. Pain should be screened for and requires assessment of potential causes and non-pharmacological and pharmacological approaches to management. Common psychosocial issues, for which there are effective psychological therapies, include fear of recurrence, fatigue, altered sleep and cognition, and effects on sex and intimacy, finances, and employment. Review of lifestyle factors including smoking, obesity, and alcohol is necessary to reduce the risk of recurrence and second cancers. Exercise can improve quality of life and might improve cancer survival; it can also contribute to the management of fatigue, pain, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, and cognitive impairment. Using a supportive care screening tool, such as the Distress Thermometer, can identify specific areas of concern and help prioritise areas to cover in a consultation.

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You can see nothing wrong? Me neither! We need to dig deeper into the paper to find what concerns me.

In the actual article, the authors state that “there is good evidence of benefit for … acupuncture …”[1]; the same message was conveyed in one of the tables. In support of these categorical statements, the authors quote the current Cochrane review entitled “Acupuncture for cancer pain in adults”. Its abstract reads as follows:

Background: Forty per cent of individuals with early or intermediate stage cancer and 90% with advanced cancer have moderate to severe pain and up to 70% of patients with cancer pain do not receive adequate pain relief. It has been claimed that acupuncture has a role in management of cancer pain and guidelines exist for treatment of cancer pain with acupuncture. This is an updated version of a Cochrane Review published in Issue 1, 2011, on acupuncture for cancer pain in adults.

Objectives: To evaluate efficacy of acupuncture for relief of cancer-related pain in adults.

Search methods: For this update CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, AMED, and SPORTDiscus were searched up to July 2015 including non-English language papers.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluated any type of invasive acupuncture for pain directly related to cancer in adults aged 18 years or over.

Data collection and analysis: We planned to pool data to provide an overall measure of effect and to calculate the number needed to treat to benefit, but this was not possible due to heterogeneity. Two review authors (CP, OT) independently extracted data adding it to data extraction sheets. Data sheets were compared and discussed with a third review author (MJ) who acted as arbiter. Data analysis was conducted by CP, OT and MJ.

Main results: We included five RCTs (285 participants). Three studies were included in the original review and two more in the update. The authors of the included studies reported benefits of acupuncture in managing pancreatic cancer pain; no difference between real and sham electroacupuncture for pain associated with ovarian cancer; benefits of acupuncture over conventional medication for late stage unspecified cancer; benefits for auricular (ear) acupuncture over placebo for chronic neuropathic pain related to cancer; and no differences between conventional analgesia and acupuncture within the first 10 days of treatment for stomach carcinoma. All studies had a high risk of bias from inadequate sample size and a low risk of bias associated with random sequence generation. Only three studies had low risk of bias associated with incomplete outcome data, while two studies had low risk of bias associated with allocation concealment and one study had low risk of bias associated with inadequate blinding. The heterogeneity of methodologies, cancer populations and techniques used in the included studies precluded pooling of data and therefore meta-analysis was not carried out. A subgroup analysis on acupuncture for cancer-induced bone pain was not conducted because none of the studies made any reference to bone pain. Studies either reported that there were no adverse events as a result of treatment, or did not report adverse events at all.

Authors’ conclusions: There is insufficient evidence to judge whether acupuncture is effective in treating cancer pain in adults.

This conclusion is undoubtedly in stark contrast to the categorical statement of the Lancet authors: “there is good evidence of benefit for … acupuncture …

What should be done to prevent people from getting misled in this way?

  1. The Lancet should correct the error. It might be tempting to do this by simply exchanging the term ‘good’ with ‘some’. However, this would still be misleading, as there is some evidence for almost any type of bogus therapy.
  2. Authors, reviewers, and editors should do their job properly and check the original sources of their quotes.

 

PS

In case someone argued that the Cochrane review is just one of many, here is the conclusion of an overview of 15 systematic reviews on the subject: The … findings emphasized that acupuncture and related therapies alone did not have clinically significant effects at cancer-related pain reduction as compared with analgesic administration alone.

 

An article in PULSE entitled ‘ Revolutionising Chiropractic Care for Today’s Healthcare System’ deserves a comment, I think. Here I give you first the article followed by my comments. The references in square brackets refer to the latter and were inserted by me; otherwise, the article is unchanged.

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This Chiropractic Awareness Week (4th – 10th April), Catherine Quinn, President of the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), is exploring the opportunity and need for a more integrated healthcare eco-system, putting the spotlight on how chiropractors can help alleviate pressures and support improved patient outcomes.

Chiropractic treatment and its role within today’s health system often prompts questions and some debate – what treatments fit under chiropractic care? Is the profession evidence based? How can it support primary health services, with the blend of public and private practice in mind? This Chiropractic Awareness Week, I want to address these questions and share the British Chiropractic Association’s ambition for the future of the profession.

The role of chiropractic today

The need for effective and efficient musculoskeletal (MSK) treatment is clear – in the UK, an estimated 17.8 million people live with a MSK condition, equivalent to approximately 28.9% of the total population.1 Lower back and neck pain specifically are the greatest causes of years lost to disability in the UK, with chronic joint pain or osteoarthritis affecting more than 8.75 million people.2 In addition to this, musculoskeletal conditions also account for 30% of all GP appointments, placing immense pressure on a system which is already under stress.3 The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still being felt by these patients and their healthcare professionals alike. Patients with MSK conditions are still having their care impacted by issues such as having clinic appointments cancelled, difficulty in accessing face-to-face care and some unable to continue regular prescribed exercise.

With these numbers and issues in mind, there is a lot of opportunity to more closely integrate chiropractic within health and community services to help alleviate pressures on primary care [1]. This is something we’re really passionate about at the BCA. However, we recognise that there are varying perceptions of chiropractic care – not just from the public but across our health peers too. We want to address this, so every health discipline has a consistent understanding.

First and foremost, chiropractic is a registered primary healthcare profession [2] and a safe form of treatment [3], qualified individuals in this profession are working as fully regulated healthcare professionals with at least four years of Masters level training. In the UK, chiropractors are regulated by law and required to adhere to strict codes of practice [4], in exactly the same ways as dentists and doctors [5]. At the BCA we want to represent the highest quality chiropractic care, which is encapsulated by a patient centred approach, driven by evidence and science [6].

As a patient-first organisation [7], our primary goal is to equip our members to provide the best treatment possible for those who need our care [8]. We truly believe that working collaboratively with other primary care and NHS services is the way to reach this goal [9].

The benefits of collaborative healthcare

As chiropractors, we see huge potential in working more closely with primary care providers and recognise there’s mutual benefits for both parties [10]. Healthcare professionals can tap into chiropractors’ expertise in MSK conditions, leaning on them for support with patient caseloads. Equally, chiropractors can use the experience of working with other healthcare experts to grow as professionals.

At the BCA, our aim is to grow this collaborative approach, working closely with the wider health community to offer patients the best level of care that we can [11]. Looking at primary healthcare services in the UK, we understand the pressures that individual professionals, workforces, and organisations face [12]. We see the large patient rosters and longer waiting times and truly believe that chiropractors can alleviate some of those stresses by treating those with MSK concerns [13].

One way the industry is beginning to work in a more integrated way is through First Contact Practitioners (FCPs) [14]. These are healthcare professionals like chiropractors who provide the first point of contact to GP patients with MSK conditions [15]. We’ve already seen a lot of evidence showing that primary care services using FCPs have been able to improve quality of care [16]. Through this service MSK patients are also seeing much shorter wait times for treatment (as little as 2-3 days), so the benefits speak for themselves for both the patient and GP [17].

By working as part of an integrated care model, with chiropractors, GPs, physiotherapists and other medical professionals, we’re creating a system that provides patients with direct routes to the treatments that they need, with greater choice. Our role within this system is very much to contribute to the health of our country, support primary care workers and reinforce the incredible work of the NHS [18].

Overcoming integrated healthcare challenges

To continue to see the chiropractic sector develop over the coming years, it’s important for us to face some of the challenges currently impacting progress towards a more integrated healthcare service.

One example is that there is a level of uncertainty about where chiropractic sits in the public/private blend. This is something we’re ready to tackle head on by showing exactly how chiropractic care benefits different individuals, whether that’s through reducing pain, improving physical function or increasing mobility [19]. We also need to encourage more awareness amongst both chiropractors and other healthcare providers about how an integrated workforce could benefit medical professionals and patients alike [20]. For example, there’s only two FCP chiropractors to date, and that’s something we’re looking to change [14].

This is the start of a much bigger conversation and, at the BCA, we’ll continue to work on driving peer acceptance, trust and inclusion to demonstrate the value of our place within the healthcare industry [21]. We’re ready to support the wider health community and primary carers, alleviating some of the pressures already facing the NHS; we’re placed in the perfect position as we have the knowledge and experience to provide essential support [22]. My main takeaway from this year’s Chiropractic Awareness Week would be to simply start a conversation with us about how [23].

 

About the British Chiropractic Association:

The BCA is the largest and longest-standing association for chiropractors in the UK. As well as promoting international standards of education and exemplary conduct, the BCA supports chiropractors to progress and develop to fulfil their professional ambitions with honour and integrity, at every step [24]. This Chiropractic Awareness Week, the BCA is raising awareness about the rigour, relevance and evidence driving the profession and the association’s ambition for chiropractic to be more closely embedded within mainstream healthcare [25].

 

  1. https://bjgp.org/content/70/suppl_1/bjgp20X711497
  2. https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/data-and-statistics/the-state-of-musculoskeletal-health/
  3. https://www.england.nhs.uk/elective-care-transformation/best-practice-solutions/musculoskeletal/#:~:text=Musculoskeletal%20(MSK)%20conditions%20account%20for,million%20people%20in%20the%20UK

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And here are my comments:

  1. Non sequitur = a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement.
  2. A primary healthcare profession is a profession providing primary healthcare which, according to standard definitions, is the provision of health services, including diagnosis and treatment of a health condition, and support in managing long-term healthcare, including chronic conditions like diabetes. Thus chiropractors are not in that category.
  3. This is just wishful thinking. Chiropractic spinal manipulation is not safe!
  4. “Required to adhere to strict codes of practice”. Required yes, but how often do they not comply?
  5. This is not true.
  6. Chiropractic is very far from being “driven by evidence and science”.
  7. Platitude = a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.
  8. Judging from past experience, the primary goal seems to be to protect chiropractors (see, for instance, here).
  9. Belief is for religion, in healthcare you need evidence. Have you looked at the referral rates of chiropractors to GPs, for instance?
  10. For chiropractors, the benefit is usually measured in £s.
  11. To offer the ” best level of care” you need research and evidence, not politically correct statements.
  12. Platitude = a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.
  13. Belief is for religion, in healthcare you need evidence.
  14. First Contact Practitioners are “regulated, advanced and autonomous health CARE PROFESSIONALS who are trained to provide expert PATIENT assessment, diagnosis and first-line treatment, self-care advice and, if required, appropriate onward referral to other SERVICES.” I doubt that many chiropractors fulfill these criteria.
  15. Not quite; see above.
  16. “A lot of evidence”? Really? Where is it?
  17.  “The benefits speak for themselves” only if the treatments used are evidence-based.
  18. Platitude = a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.
  19. Where is the evidence?
  20. Awareness is not needed as much as evidence?
  21. Platitude = a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.
  22. Platitude = a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.
  23. Fine, let’s start the conversation: where is your evidence?
  24. Judging from past experience honor and integrity seem rather thin on the ground (see, for instance here).

The article promised to ‘revolutionize chiropractic care and to answer questions like what treatments fit under chiropractic care? Is the profession evidence-based? Sadly, none of this emerged. Instead, we were offered politically correct platitudes, half-truths, and obscurations.

The revolution in chiropractic, it thus seems, is not in sight.

On this blog, I have almost exclusively written about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), and I intend to continue along these lines. But today, I have to make an exception. The reason is the UK government’s ‘Rwanda Project’. I heard about it this morning while listening to the BBC, and I am too shocked to not write about it.

Already in 2020, it had been reported that the UK home secretary, Priti Patel, had asked officials to look into the possibility of sending all asylum seekers to Ascension, an isolated volcanic British island south of the Equator in the Atlantic Ocean.[1] At the time, the idea was met with much criticism and opposition. Today she is about to announce that a modification of her plan will, in fact, be implemented; our government is about to unveil plans to send ‘illegal migrants’ who reach Britain to Rwanda:

Flying asylum seekers to Rwanda to be processed is “despicable” and “evil”, critics have said as they hit out at government plans expected to be announced on Monday. ITV News has seen a government document that raises issues over the legality of such a policy, as ministers attempt to tackle small boat crossings of the Channel. The government document says the policy would carry the risk of legal challenges but is possible under current legislation should the government wish to push ahead. Boris Johnson is set to argue on Thursday that action is needed to combat the “vile people smugglers” turning the ocean into a “watery graveyard”. Many details of the expected announcement, such as whether it would apply just to those who arrived by what the government calls illegal means, remain unclear. The document seen by ITV News also states that any agreement of this nature would require the government to financially incentivise whichever country it reaches a deal with. Initial estimates had the policy costing in the tens of millions of pounds, but the document says this has been revised to the hundreds of millions of pounds.

The plan sounds utterly cynical, irrational, illegal, and expensive; and again there is an outrage; QC tweeted, for instance, this: “And if an asylum applicant who’s been dumped in Rwanda is then refused, what happens then? The whole thing is the stuff of nightmares. It feels like things are becoming increasingly dystopian as the days pass. Why oh why can’t we have some creative and humane people in charge.”

One might well ask, where does such an inhumane concept come from?

It turns out that it resembles an idea of the Third Reich that was equally baffling and similarly cruel.

Anticipating the German invasion of France in 1940, the German diplomat, Franz Rademacher, developed his Madagascar project, a bizarre plan to rid Europe of all Jews. It envisaged that:

  • once defeated, France would agree to make Madagascar available,
  • American Jewry would be blackmailed into funding the operation,
  • France would be forced to find an alternate home for the 25,000 French inhabitants of Madagascar.

The plan may now sound ridiculous but, in 1940, it was seriously considered by the Nazi leadership. In June of that year, Rademacher, who then was the head of the German Foreign Ministry’s Jewish Department, presented the idea to his boss, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who then explained it to Hitler. Hitler was sufficiently impressed to discuss it with Mussolini. Rademacher wrote that “The approaching victory gives Germany the possibility, and in my view also the duty, of solving the Jewish question in Europe. The desirable solution is: All Jews out of Europe.” [2] 

When Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Main Security Office, learned about the “Madagascar Project”, he highjacked it and swiftly put Adolf Eichmann in charge of it. On August 15, 1940, Eichmann published a pamphlet on the “Madagascar Project.” It envisaged that the deportation of the Jews would be carried out by the British merchant marine, after the anticipated invasion and defeat of the United Kingdom. Two ships per day would then leave Europe for Madagascar, each one carrying 1,500 Jews. In just a few years, Europe would thus become ‘Juden-frei’, free of Jews.

The Madagascar plan envisaged turning Madagascar into a monumental concentration camp under German control. The island is merely 228,900 square miles in size and would not have provided sufficient room for millions. It was therefore understood that many of the prisoners would perish, not least because of the lack of food, housing and healthcare as well as the difficult climate. 

Eventually, the Madagascar plan had to be abandoned. What was decided subsequently with Rademacher’s cooperation about the fate of the Jews, the ‘final solution’, was even more unspeakably outrageously abhorrent.

The main players involved in the Madagascar project did all perish:

  • Ribbentrop was sentenced to death at the Nuremberg trials.
  • Hitler committed suicide.
  • Heydrich was assassinated.
  • Eichmann was sentenced to death in Israel.

Only Rademacher survived. After the war, he was imprisoned by British military police who mistook him for ‘small fry’ and promptly released him. In 1952, he was put on trial in West Germany for the murders of Jews he had supervised in Serbia. Yet, aided by a network of Nazi sympathizers, he managed to flee to Syria. The German court then convicted him in his absence and sentenced him to 3 years and 5 months imprisonment. In 1962, an Israeli spy delivered a letter bomb to Rademacher in Syria who, however, remained unharmed. In 1966, Rademacher returned voluntarily to West Germany and was promptly re-arrested. This time, he was sentenced to five and half years, but never actually served a prison sentence. In 1971, the German high court overruled the former judgment and ordered a new trial to take place. However, Rademacher died on 17 March 1973, before it could take place.[3]

I hope that I am wrong and that the UK government’s plan is not similar to the Nazi’s “Madagascar Project”. Maybe it is just a PR stunt of our PM to distract from his very own lawbreaking, and the ‘Rwanda project’ will never be implemented. In any case, we should urgently remind everyone of George Santayana’s wise words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

 

 

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/priti-patel-asylum-ascensi on-island-atlantic-immigration-process-centre-b703625.html

[2] https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-1940-eichmann-plans-to-deport-jews-to-madagascar-1.5424692

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Rademacher

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