Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540-543


21 FEBRUARY 2007

  Q540  Viscount Simon: I would like to go back, if I may, to what Professor Corrigan was describing, the equipment for Vega testing. If someone went along and was Vega tested and the result was X, would the result be the same X if they went along to someone else half an hour later?

  Professor Corrigan: No. There have been well designed studies around this issue. This is one of the few useless tests that has been conclusively proven useless by very well performed trials in which various practitioners were asked to analyse the same patients and came up with answers which differed no more from random. I think one can safely say that no is the answer.

  Q541  Chairman: I wonder if I could ask you all a question in relation to research and research evidence that we have heard often is not there and whether the outcome measures that are being used to assess these different modalities have possibly been the wrong outcome measures? How much have quality of life assessments been incorporated and how have the domains in those quality of life assessments been evolved and validated?

  Professor Ernst: This is a question about any patient centred outcome measure. In the past, medicine has been accused of measuring what is measurable rather than what is relevant. That has dramatically changed. We have, if anything, too many quality of life measurements rather than too few these days. Any good trial these days must include a measure of quality of life both in mainstream and in complementary medicine. In complementary medicine, it has largely been adopted so I do not know of any reasonably good trial that totally neglects the patient's view in that sense.

  Ms Chatfield: I would agree with that in the main. Things have improved a great deal recently in respect of how people are looking at the various outcome measures and how we can improve them and make them more suitable to the testing of the outcome that we want to measure, of course. With the kind of holistic treatment that we are measuring in homeopathy, we still do not have an outcome measure that successfully can measure the effect on every level. By their very nature, randomised control trials are trying to measure very specifically. Homeopathy is going to affect the whole person. It is very difficult to measure an outcome for a whole person.

  Q542  Chairman: I wonder if any of the work that was done in the cancer field such as in Sequoia, which is a very personalised quality of life measure, has been used in assessing any of these?

  Ms Chatfield: It would be if we had the money to carry out the trials. We would be looking at all of those things.

  Professor Corrigan: There are well designed quality of life measures for asthma and rhinitis which are used in conventional, clinical trials but sadly not in trials of homeopathy, for example.

  Ms Chatfield: They are.

  Professor Corrigan: I have just picked one at random from this year's homeopathy where this doctor has treated 147 asthmatics and claimed that all but two of them got better, based on his personal observation and no objective measurements whatsoever.

  Ms Chatfield: That is one paper. I would disagree there.[5]

  Q543  Chairman: One of my questions relates to the overall usage and if you have any figures on how many patients are using complementary and alternative medicine, amongst the population with the different allergies. We know in the cancer field about 50 per cent of patients who are undergoing conventional cancer treatments are also using some form of complementary or alternative medicine. Indeed some, such as reflexology and aromatherapy, are provided within the NHS setting. I wonder if you have any comments on that in relation to patients with asthma?

  Professor Corrigan: Yes I do. Interestingly, there is a recent paper by Slader and colleagues, three Australian physicians, who address this very question: Complementary and alternative medicine in asthma: who is using what? They estimate that 59 per cent of adolescents and children are using complementary alternative medicines and somewhat fewer adults, but less than 10 per cent of them make it known to their general practitioners without general or specific questioning. So probably thousands of people in the UK with asthma are using them.

  Professor Ernst: According to our own publication which we conducted with the National Asthma Campaign in this country, and which dates back now about seven years, it is around a third of British patients who use complementary therapies. I would not want anybody however to over-estimate these surveys because they are fraught with lots of difficulties. For instance, depending on how you define any of these umbrella terms like "complementary medicine" you can generate any prevalence figure. If I remind you that drinking tea is a herbal remedy, strictly speaking, then all of us use complementary medicines.

  Chairman: On that note, could I thank you for coming. If there is additional information that you would like to submit to us as a Committee, I would invite you to do so following this session and it will be considered as part of the evidence that you have given today. I would be grateful, Professor Corrigan, if we could have a copy of the paper that you referred to in the last couple of minutes. Thank you very much.

5   Generally today researchers in any form of complementary medicine have to strive harder to ensure validity and reliability of their methods than their counterparts in conventional medical research. It is more difficult for them to get research ethical approval, to get funding and to get published. Extreme bias can mean that their work is scrutinised to a high level. Even the authors of the Lancet meta-analysis that was so damning of homeopathy concluded that the homeopathy trials were of better quality than the comparison trials of conventional medicine. Back

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