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Letters to the Editor Issue 51

by Letters(more info)

listed in letters to the editor, originally published in issue 51 - April 2000

BCMA: Clearing Up Some Misunderstandings

May I correct some misunderstandings on the part of your correspondent Tom Litten (Positive Health Feb 2000).

It is not part of the philosophy of the BCMA to set up Complementary Medicine (CM) as 'intrinsically subordinate to the Orthodox Medicine (OM) profession.' The BCMA is working towards the integration of CM into the country's Healthcare System as an equal partner with OM.

The definitions of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, as used by the BCMA, are an attempt to clarify the situation with reference to the historical concept of conventional medical diagnosis. Realistically we have to accept that, unless therapists are trained to an equivalent level of understanding and knowledge as a doctor in the related areas, they cannot make such a diagnosis.

In this context, training to such a level makes them Alternative and competent to make (and by inference accept responsibility for) a medical diagnosis – otherwise they are Complementary. The CM therapists will obviously make a diagnosis in line with the principles of their own therapy. The problem is simply the potential confusion through the use of the word 'diagnosis'. This can be avoided by the addition of a suitable adjective e.g. Shiatsu diagnosis or by using an alternative word such as analysis.

We are aware that there are other definitions of 'Complementary' such as 'complementing the healing power of the body'. We have no problem with this but would just re-emphasise that the BCMA was simply trying to defuse a potentially contentious situation.

Being Complementary does NOT, however, 'deny practitioners the freedom to practise that has been assumed for many years nor deny the public the freedom to choose their path to health'. The BCMA supports the right of CM practitioners to treat patients who come to them without being referred by a doctor. We do advise that if a patient has not consulted a doctor about a particular symptom before seeking CM treatment, he/she should be advised to do so (there can be no compulsion) but appropriate CM treatment can continue independently, with due regard being paid to contra-indications and matters of Ethics and the Law.

Finally, because of our concern that the public should receive safe and efficacious CM, we do advocate that patients should seek out properly trained practitioners who are members of professional organisations which have a Code of Conduct, a Complaints and Disciplinary Procedure and an adequate insurance arrangement.

I hope that the above will put Tom Litten's mind at rest – and any others who misunderstood the situation with respect to the BCMA's views.

Tom Lafferty , Chairman
British Complementary Medicine Association
Kensington House
33 Imperial Square
Cheltenham GL50 1QZ

Tom Litten Replies

I am pleased to read Tom Lafferty's development of the BCMA's definitions of "Complementary" and "Alternative" medicines. What he says moves the position far towards the understanding and ambitions of many practitioners in the field. However, there are still aspects of the matter that are not sufficiently assertive of the skills and achievements of the CAM community.

In his first paragraph he states, "...unless therapists are trained to an equivalent level of understanding and knowledge as a doctor in the related areas ..." This puts orthodox medicine in the position of being the standard for which we must strive. It does not recognise that a 'non-conventional medical discipline' has its own traditions and principles, nor that many of the disciplines are conducted in ways that are fundamentally incompatible with orthodox comparisons. The questions must surely be whether the discipline is capable of providing the clients with the support, relief, recovery they desire, and whether the public can identify competent practitioners within that discipline. In this last matter, I fully support Tom Lafferty's point about seeking out practitioners who have the recognition of professional bodies.

In his role as Chairman of the BCMA, Tom Lafferty is under much pressure to find ways to move the recognition of CAM forward and to gain a proper place in the national provision of healthcare. I do not believe that we gain that movement if we start by understating our claims or by underselling our case. We all know that there is resistance from orthodox medicine (or this would have been settled years ago) but only by telling everybody involved in this complex process of education and negotiation what our reality is can we expect them to respond sensibly.

My initial letter (Positive Health Feb 2000) was written in the belief that the definitions offered by BCMA were likely to undermine our case.

The length of Tom Lafferty's refutation tends to support me in that belief. I hope that BCMA will develop this expanded version to make the essential differences between orthodox medicine and complementary medicine clearer, and to make clear that that difference is not negotiable. The question is not how CAM makes itself like orthodox medicine, or even compatible with orthodox medicine, but how CAM's intrinsic values and extrinsic effectiveness can play a fully active part in the national healthcare system.

Tom Litten
Rosewell Shiatsu Centre


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