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14 Oct 2009 : Column 416

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the roles that astrology and astronomy can play. I acknowledge that some forms of complementary and alternative medicines and thought consider that there is a link or relationship between astrology and their practice. An example is Indian ayurvedic medicine. I would say to him that, with this as with any other CAM, any proposals for research would be considered on their merits.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the matter of access to CAM therapies. I confirm that we are committed to providing the most appropriate and effective treatments for patients. Complementary and alternative medicine therapies that have been proven to be effective, cost-effective and safe will be made available to patients. As he will know, it is a matter for local NHS organisations to commission health care treatments for NHS patients, as they are best placed to make decisions in the interests of their local communities. Primary care trusts manage 80 per cent. of the national health service budgets, and they are responsible for making the decisions on what treatments to commission and fund. They often have specific policies on the commissioning and provision of CAM. Within these policies, GPs can give access to specific therapies, provided that they are in the patient's interest. If someone wishes to receive a specific CAM treatment on the NHS, they should discuss this with their GP. Clinical responsibility for an individual's health rests with their GP, who must be able justify to clinically any treatment referral.

I want to address the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines on complementary and alternative medicines. NICE has already agreed that where there is sufficient evidence to look at specific complementary therapies when developing clinical guidance for particular conditions, it will do so. The guidance focuses on a particular illness or condition rather than on the treatment or therapy. A good example are the recent guidelines produced by NICE on the management of non-specific lower back pain, of which I know the hon. Gentleman will be aware. These guidelines include consideration of treatments such as osteopathy, spinal manipulation and massage. NICE has already issued guidance on whether some complementary therapies do or do not add benefit in respect of specific conditions, including multiple sclerosis, antenatal care and palliative care.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of important points about the regulation of CAM. Regulation, whether it is statutory or voluntary, is primarily, of course, about patient safety. It is our duty to protect the public from poor or potentially unsafe practices. I note the hon. Gentleman's point about osteopathy and chiropractic treatments, which are currently regulated by law. Any future review of regulation would most likely examine whether the current arrangements are the most cost-effective way to manage public safety. No decisions have yet been taken.

The Government have no current plans to extend statutory regulation to homeopathy. The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about a document recommending disinvestment from homeopathy, which was circulated using the NHS logo. I can confirm that our inquiries found no record of the Department having authorised the use of the NHS logo and that those who originated the document were asked not to circulate it any further. They were advised about the use of the logo in future and chief executives of trusts were also informed that the document does not represent Government policy.

14 Oct 2009 : Column 417

Although we have committed to considering statutory regulation for herbal medicine and acupuncture, which carry significant risk because they involve skin piercing and/or the ingestion of potentially harmful substances, we have no current plans, as I have said, to include homeopathy. To clarify, that is because statutory regulations are a priority, I believe, for those conditions where there is a particular risk of harm if treatment is placed in the wrong hands. A consultation has been launched on whether practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine should be regulated by statute. It closes on 2 November this year, and we will respond in due course.

Other schemes that the Department supports include the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency's new traditional herbal medicines registration scheme, which will make it easier for consumers to identify regulated products. We will also continue to support the work of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, and we have funded its start-up costs. The CNHC is a voluntary registration body that is open to massage, nutritional, aromatherapy and reflexology therapists. It will open to more therapies in due course. Registration means that the practitioner has met certain entry standards, including accredited qualification, and subscribes to a set of professional standards. The Department meets the CNHC regularly to discuss progress.

CAM, of course, covers a wide range of disciplines, and I believe that it is right to keep our options open and to continue to support research into new therapies and treatments. It is also right that we choose and fund those treatments that are effective, cost-effective and safe. That decision must be based on robust clinical standards, backed up by rigorous and evidence-based scientific assessment. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising such an important issue this evening.

David Tredinnick: I notice that we have a little time left. I am grateful to the Minister for her helpful response. A number of disciplines were mentioned and I could have referred to radionics, for example, for which a double-blind trial is almost impossible, yet it is very popular because people believe that it gives them the ability to get remote healing. We need to think out of the box here. As with healers who can do remote healing, it is no good people saying that just because we cannot prove something, it does not work. The anecdotal evidence that it does is enormous. I know that the Minister is a forward thinker, and I believe that the Department needs to be very open to the idea of energy transfers and the people who work in that sphere. Will she comment further on that?

14 Oct 2009 : Column 418

Gillian Merron: I think we could all do with a bit of that this week. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his offer.

As I said earlier, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government do not take a position on specific complementary and alternative medicines. That is left to GPs and local health centres. I think that that is right, but I also think it right for us to provide the information to which I have referred. Let me recap briefly: we provide information on safety, clinical effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and the availability of suitably qualified or regulated practitioners, and I think that that puts us in about the right place.

As I was saying, the hon. Gentleman is a great ambassador and is very knowledgeable about this subject.

David Tredinnick rose-

Gillian Merron: And I think that the House will want to hear a further intervention from him.

David Tredinnick: I am very grateful for the opportunity, Madam Deputy Speaker. Having been in the House for a while, I look for such opportunities.

I have mentioned the problems of negative information, particularly in the context of the Royal London homeopathic hospital and homeopathy generally, and of what is effectively an attack on a statutorily regulated body dealing with chiropractic. Will the Minister offer to look into the position, and perhaps write to me about both the state of the Royal London and the disinformation that has been issued and the chiropractic regulatory council?

Gillian Merron: I think that that intervention demonstrates why it is so important for the Government to take the position of not being for or against specific complementary and alternative medicine, and-as I said at the beginning of my speech-treating it in the same way as mainstream medicine. I am aware of the other matter that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but obviously neither I nor the Government can control what people put in blogs or letters. What we can do, I think, is rise above it, and I believe that that is what we have done by providing the information that we have provided.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for initiating the debate. He has made a great contribution and a strong case for the views that he holds, and I know that the House will be grateful for that.

Question put and agreed to.

7.42 pm

House adjourned.

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