In a strangely incoherent article in The Mail yesterday, the journalist, Daniel Martin, epitomises the current confusion about alternative medicine that reigns in the UK and its NHS. This time it’s acupuncture that gets it in the neck – or perhaps in the back as the article speaks a lot about back pain.

Calling acupuncture (a system of therapeutics in use for 5000 years) ‘mumbo jumbo’ medicine, Martin bemoans the fact that NICE, the government’s ‘rationing watchdog’ will tomorrow announce that patients will be allowed to ‘demand’ acupuncture and other apparently unproven treatments on the NHS. He goes on to quote the ubiquitous David Coquhoun: who uses the term ‘theatrical placebo’ by which he means that patients are duped into only thinking they are better. So a patient who feels that his back pain is gone or much better has been unfairly duped and a stop should be put to this obviously irrational way of helping people.

The article then becomes ugly when it begins to whinge about money that could be spent on Alzheimer’s treatment, being wasted on things like acupuncture. I think I’ve dealt quite adequately with this NHS finance issue here.

What the NICE report is actually admitting is refreshingly honest. Back pain is often a mystery, difficult to treat and a problem that costs the country millions every year in lost working hours. Bearing this in mind, NICE is recommending that patients be allowed to choose (a concept too horrible to contemplate for people like Colquhoun) a course of alternative medicine for back pain. This is what gets totally up the nose of authoritarian medical bullies such as Prof. David Colquhoun. They hate the idea of patient choice because patients may make choices abhorrent to them. In other words, although you pay for the NHS in your taxes, you are too ignorant to be allowed to choose among various recommended treatments for your back pain.  NICE may have been influenced by a Seattle study that showed acupuncture helped patients with back pain. Detractors point out that patients in the study who received ‘toothpicks’ rather than acupuncture needles also did well. So they say it’s obviously worthless. Fortunately NICE does not see it that way. Perhaps because they agree that the first duty of a doctor is to heal – not initally and primarily satisfy his/her own curiosity about how and why things happen in the human body – something that will never be fully understood.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Daniel Martin and David Coquhoun:
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

You choose what you want for yourself and families and let us (ignorant as we may be) choose for ours.