Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Speaker: With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Delegated Legislation


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 644


Foot and Mouth Disease

10.13 pm

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): It gives me great pleasure to present the petition from the people of Herefordshire, particularly as the outbreak of foot and mouth disease caused extensive damage, hardship and disruption to the farming and rural community, to the tourist industry and to other business throughout the United Kingdom, with consequent economic loss to those directly and indirectly affected and to the economy of the United Kingdom as a whole. There is a particularly strong feeling in the countryside. The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Sidford Bypass

10.14 pm

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): I have the honour to present a petition signed by 645 residents of Sidford in Devon, who oppose the sale for development of the land formerly earmarked for a bypass for Sidford.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 643

9 Jan 2002 : Column 645


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mrs. McGuire.]

10.15 pm

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): I am delighted to see you, Mr. Speaker, in your place at this late hour to chair the debate. I am also delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), with whom I have debated before, in her place to respond to the important issue of the regulation of acupuncture, because there has been a seismic change in Government policy in the past few weeks. I shall explain why I think that that is the case in a few moments.

In the past year or so, much has been going on in complementary and alternative medicine, not least the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee's report on complementary and alternative medicine, most of which the Government accepted. As a result, the Government have now got themselves a new committee to help take forward the process of statutory self-regulation for two key and related parts of the complementary and alternative process: acupuncture and herbal medicine. Although herbal medicine is slightly ahead of acupuncture, we must treat them as a whole tonight; we cannot divorce one from the other.

I believe that statutory self-regulation is so important and the way forward because, two Parliaments ago, I sat on the Standing Committees for both the Osteopaths Bill and the Chiropractors Bill and saw them enacted. I know what a difference it has made to have statutory regulations for osteopathy and chiropractic. Having been treasurer of the parliamentary group for complementary and alternative medicine since 1987, I know how crucial it is that we build confidence among not just patients seeking treatment but qualified medical practitioners to refer cases to other disciplines, such as acupuncture and herbal medicine.

The story so far is that both acupuncture and herbal medicine practitioners are in favour of such moves and are making significant progress. Herbal medicine and acupuncture are inextricably linked. In traditional Chinese medicine, the prescription of herbs and the use of acupuncture—inserting needles to regulate the flow of "chi", or energy—are intertwined, although in the west, herbal medicine does not necessarily involve the use of acupuncture.

Herbal medicine practitioners, with whom I shall deal first, have just completed a scoping document with the Department, which sets an ambitious and demanding route to statutory self-regulation for the herbal profession. The Department is to be congratulated—I have not used that word often—on setting up a regulatory working group for herbal medicine. It is significant and important that the Government have had the foresight to make it clear that that group will have the capacity to assess the needs of other disciplines, such as aromatherapy, for statutory self-regulation.

It is also helpful that Professor Michael Pittilo has been appointed to take over the detailed work of preparing herbal medicine for statutory self-regulation. I applaud the bringing in of representatives of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine and other lay advisers, because one

9 Jan 2002 : Column 646

of the criticisms that the parliamentary group has always had of the Department is that it has never had on board enough people who understand the issues. That is a step in the right direction. I am pleased by that positive response, but I must tell the Minister that the Conservative manifesto at the election said that complementary and alternative medicine should be made much more available in the health service. The pressure that has been applied to the Government from those on the Conservative Benches over the years has probably had some effect. I do not want the Minister to raise her eyebrows too much, because we have had a good relationship in discussions in the past, but I want to make that one political point.

I was astonished to read over my cornflakes before Christmas that the Government have now apparently embraced complementary and alternative medicine, and integrated health care generally, so dramatically. The reports said:

It was also claimed that yoga may become a treatment on the NHS and that the Secretary of State wants to set up contracts with licensed alternative therapists. That is a dramatic change. Normally the Government like to bury the bad news in the busy weeks, but this time they have slipped out some good news. It may have gone unnoticed, but it has the potential to make a significant shift in the way in which patients are treated by the health service.

If the Minister and her colleagues will really embrace the 50,000 complementary practitioners, waiting lists will fall. One point that emerges strongly from the submissions made by complementary practitioners, especially acupuncturists, is that they believe that they achieve a 30 per cent. improvement rate when treating patients. Other benefits would include reductions in drugs bills.

Acupuncture is so important because it can treat many different afflictions that it is sometimes difficult to treat within the health service, possibly because of lack of resources and overstretched doctors and sometimes because other treatments are not successful. Acupuncture has been successfully used in drug addiction, treatment of pain, musculoskeletal problems and asthma.

The Minister may not be aware of the following three examples. A team at Derriford hospital in Devon, headed by Sarah Budd, who recently won an integrated health care award, provides a maternity acupuncture service. The hospital has about 4,500 births a year and the service offers a choice of pain relief for women in labour. Because it was such a success, it was expanded to a popular in-patient and out-patient service for antenatal and post-natal problems. Nearer to my Leicestershire constituency, the Kingsmill hospital in Sutton in Ashfield, which is in Nottinghamshire, has been treating eight pregnant ladies for back pain, and that also has been very successful. Those projects should be encouraged, as should the project at the Claydon health centre in Manchester, which uses acupuncture alongside hypnotherapy in smoking cessation treatment. I have given up smoking and I know how hard it is. The Government have a project to reduce smoking—I have raised the issue twice at recent Question Times—and the Minister should consider incorporating acupuncture in that plan

9 Jan 2002 : Column 647

The British Academy of Western Acupuncture gave me a list of the different afflictions that acupuncture can treat, and they include migraine, trigeminal neuralgia, asthma, bronchitis, menopausal problems, digestive problems, hiatus hernia, colitis, nausea, vomiting, recurrent cystitis, bed-wetting, eczema, psoriasis, hay fever, sinusitis and anxiety. Just about every treatment can be treated using acupuncture.

The herbalists are likely to achieve self-regulation first, followed by the acupuncturists, but the Minister must focus on the issue of managing two registers. Broadly speaking, it has been agreed in the Department that herbal medicine—a category that includes western herbal medicine, the Indian Ayurveda discipline and the traditional Chinese herbalism—should all be regulated as one group. The three different disciplines would be treated in a sort of federal way, with one system of regulation.

Acupuncture should be treated separately. That is my view: some people disagree, but the Minister should not be blown off course. She must stick with the two registers, one for herbalists and one for acupuncturists. The experts in this country who have been taking the matter forward have produced a scheme that has required a lot of careful negotiation.

However, we must find a mechanism to ensure that those who practise both disciplines do not have to pay two registration fees. That was a problem for osteopaths and chiropractors, who found the combined fee for the two registers to which they belonged of more than £1,000 to be prohibitive.

Secondly, the acupuncturists' register must be all-inclusive and embrace all the different bodies. In particular, it must cover the British Medical Acupuncture Society, the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists and the British Acupuncture Council. Each of those bodies has some 2,000 members, but the other, smaller groups are no less important.

Regulation is important because it builds confidence. It gives patients the confidence to go to these practitioners, and it makes it much more likely that doctors will be prepared to refer patients to complementary practitioners. I hope that that will make possible a dramatic increase in the numbers of people treated on the NHS. I think that acupuncture should be available, free at the point of delivery, at most GPs' surgeries and most NHS hospitals. That should be the objective.

Regulatory bodies have to be financed. I hope that the Minister will say whether the Government would be prepared to produce some of the funding for the registers for acupuncturists and for herbalists. That matter needs to be resolved at an early stage.

I shall not say too much more, as I want the Minister to have a proper chance to answer the debate. It is always unfortunate when Ministers get squeezed for time at the end of Adjournment debates, so I shall give her the best part of a quarter of an hour to reply. However, research is a key issue. People ask where the research on acupuncture can be found, as they do not know enough about it, but the answer is that a lot of research has been done.

We sometimes forget that the People's Republic of China, the origin of Chinese medicine and acupuncture, has a population of 1.273 billion people. The country has

9 Jan 2002 : Column 648

67,000 hospitals, and the anecdotal evidence gathered over the 2,000 years for which acupuncture has been used is overwhelming. There must be studies in Chinese that could be translated into English. Instead of initiating new studies, I believe that we should get our embassy in China to translate some existing surveys. That would engender confidence in this country, and help to take acupuncture forward.

Finally, some other organisations have raised some points to which I should like to refer. The European Federation of Modern Acupuncture has argued that there should be a complete audit of how acupuncture is used in the private sector, to determine how best to use it in the public sector. It also suggested that the more controversial acupuncture treatments—such as the Voll technique, which tries to identify health dysfunction by the reaction to needles—should be thoroughly analysed. I support that.

The Modern Acupuncture Association has stated that its practitioners can improve the health of at least 30 per cent. of people referred to them. It added:

Another key point concerns the costs that can be saved, as the needles are extremely inexpensive when compared to some vastly expensive drugs. That is why in the past the drugs industry has, generally speaking, taken a disparaging view of complementary medicine and pooh-poohed it. Fortunately, that situation has changed.

The British Academy of Western Acupuncture has written to say that the tendency in the national health service is to refer a patient to the acupuncturist when all else has failed. Mr. George Nieman, the principal, writes:

He also talks about expenditure and points out that under current arrangements, treatments are frequently rationed to six only, whereas an acupuncturist needs about 10 treatments to make an impact. Perhaps the Minister will address that point.

The British Acupuncture Council argues that doctors should at least be able to meet World Health Organisation standards of acupuncture education. That should be the minimum requirement. I think that the time has gone for doctors merely to say, "It probably won't do you any harm." Doctors have to know how homeopathy works and about the principles of herbal medicine, the pulses and chi in Chinese medicine. It is no good telling patients that such treatments will probably do them no harm.

I have initiated this debate because I think that it is crucial to have statutory self-regulation to improve the way in which acupuncture is delivered in this country. I also think that, at a time when the Secretary of State for Health is sending patients abroad for treatment, it is crucial to make better use of the roughly 10,000 acupuncturists who are available to work in the health service.

I shall finish by paraphrasing passages from a lovely book called "The Watching Tree" by Adeline Yen Mah, a Chinese lady who was brought up in Shanghai and Hong Kong and came to live in the west. She went with her aunt, who had developed a lump in her breast, to see a Chinese physician in Shanghai. The doctor did not examine her at all but simply took her hand for 10 minutes

9 Jan 2002 : Column 649

and studied it. Mrs. Yen Mah could see her aunt getting nervous. The practitioner said that he was well aware that her aunt had a lump. He continued:

or energy. He continued:

After the consultation, the aunt received herbs from what was described as a strange looking cabinet. Mrs. Yen Mah said:

The aunt took the medicine. The author says:

She lived to tell the tale. That wonderful system of medicine, about which we in the west do not have a great enough awareness as yet, saved that person's life.

Next Section

IndexHome Page