We are rightly proud of our health service. The principles of the 1947 NHS Act still apply, in the most part, that any citizen, when sick, will have access to health treatment - regardless of his or her ability to pay.
But is everyone getting access to the type of treatment they want?
All the main political parties now parade ‘patient choice’ as an important objective for the future of the NHS. The previous Labour government, in its White Paper, (“Our Health, Our Care, Our Say: a new direction for community services. January 2006)” confirmed this. Patricia Hewitt, Health Secretary at the time, stated this:
“(more) people (are) wanting a different approach to services, looking for real choices, more local care, taking greater control over their health, supported to remain independent wherever possible”.
The new coalition Government’s White Paper, “Equity and Excellence: liberating the NHS. July 2010” says this:
“We want the principle of "shared decision making" to become the norm: no decision about me without me. International evidence shows that involving patients in their care and treatment improves their health outcomes, boosts their satisfaction with services received, and increases not just their knowledge and understanding of their health status but also their adherence to a chosen treatment. It can also bring significant reductions in cost, as highlighted in the Wanless Report, and in evidence from various programmes to improve the management of long-term health conditions.
Yet is this anywhere near close to reality within the NHS?
Marjorie Titchen is 93 years old. She lives in Bournemouth, where she continues to run a small hotel. She says that she will retire when she is 100 years old! By this time she will have paid taxes for over 80 years, so she has certainly paid her dues, and her entitlement to health treatment should surely be unquestioned.
Yet she has been fighting now for several years for treatment for her osteoarthritis. But the Bournemouth and Poole PCT has refused to consider it. Why? Because Marjorie wants to see a homeopath, and the PCT insists that they will allow her access only to conventional treatment.
Marjorie refuses to accept conventional treatment, and her arthritis is getting worse. She says she has heard too much about the ‘adverse reactions’ to drugs, and does not want to go down that route.
Even her GP supports her - but still the PCT remains unmoved. She has made representations, and formal complaints; she had written to the Department of Health; she has talked to her MP; she has highlighted her case in the local media. All to no avail.
The PCT refuses to budge on its paternalistic belief that it knows best. Their primary defense appears to be that there is ‘no evidence’ that homeopathy is effective in treating osteoarthritis.
Wrong, says Marjorie! She developed osteoarthritis over 12 years ago, and was referred to homeopathic treatment by the PCT at that time. This relieved her pain, and for several years she was pain free. So as she says, she is living proof of the effectiveness of homeopathy.
Wrong, says the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths, referring to the research that has been carried out into arthritis that shows it can be effective in the treatment of the disease.
This includes research that found homeopathy provided a level of pain-relief superior to a conventional drug, used as a control. This research, carried out in 1998, also found that homeopathy produced ‘no adverse reactions’.
So what is happening here? Mrs Titchen wants to access homeopathic treatment. Her GP supports her. Her homeopath is willing to treat her, as he did, successfully, several years ago. Homeopathic treatment is not expensive, indeed, it is less expensive than the conventional treatment she is being offered.
Yet the PCT still sees fit to make the purely bureaucratic decision to deny her the treatment she is asking for.
The NHS is dominated by conventional medicine, and it has become a monopoly. The bureaucrats in charge of PCTs in most areas don’t want to consider homeopathic treatment because they don’t want us to breach their monopoly. They also don’t want to allow homeopathy to prove more effective in the treatment of diseases, such as arthritis, than the favour medicine - in which, of course, they have a personal vested interest.
Government policy on patient choice is a mess. It talks about ‘patient choice’ but what it allows to happen within the NHS runs contrary to this objective. When the Department of Health is asked to comment on this kind of situation, it says that the decision rests at the local level, with the local PCT, which has to take ‘local needs’ into consideration. No doubt this is part of their laudable policy to devolve NHS power from the centre to local areas. But devolving power from London to local PCTs it acts against patient choice, as can be seen in Marjorie Titchen’s case.
The Bournemouth and Poole PCT, and its bureacracy has decided not to offer Mrs Titchen homeopathy. It know better than Marjories, her GP, and her homeopath. Such a decision is anathema ‘patient choice’, and all patients looking for drug-free treatment are certainly not getting the medicine of their choice.