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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Conventional Medicine. Useless Treatment?

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has published an article that discussed the issue of 'useless' conventional medical treatment. It is called "Choosing Wisely in the UK: the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges’ initiative to reduce the harms of too much medicine". BMJ 2015;350:h2308. Reading the article it appears that it is not just the effectiveness it is discussing, but also the cost and value of the treatment, and its dangers. The conclusion, however, is that we are being offered too much of it.

The Independent newspaper commented that "dozens of common medical treatments and procedures routinely given to patients by doctors are effectively pointless", and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) were quoted as saying that "scores of treatments which can be given to patients for various ailments ranging from grazes to cancer frequently do little more or the same as doing nothing at all, while also potentially incurring side effects". It states that the NHS is spending £2 billion on "useless or harmful treatment".

The Guardian newspaper provides the same information, only with a slightly different slant, that makes it into a rationing and resources issue.

               "In a move that has roused fears that it will lead to the widespread rationing of NHS care, the body representing the UK’s 250,000 doctors is seeking to ensure that patients no longer undergo treatment that is unlikely to work, may harm them and wastes valuable resources".

The BMJ report is about the cost-effectiveness of conventional health. It warns that the NHS will not be able to cope with growing demand for healthcare unless 'over-treatment' is banished. The Guardian comments how the structure of the NHS leads to this over-treatment.

               "The NHS’s “tariff” system of paying hospitals for treatment incentivises them to undertake medical activity, as does the Quality Outcomes Framework system under which GPs are rewarded for, for example, treating high cholesterol or high blood pressure".

All this comes at a time when the NHS, and the conventional medicine that dominates this, is once again in deep crisis, as it has been every winter since its inauguration. Of course, the media are seeking to put a gloss on the failure of conventional medicine. It isn't that pharmaceutical-led medicine is failing, or that the NHS is virtually bankrupt, it is that patients are expecting too much, and doctors are 'overtreating' us by giving us treatments we do not need, or which do not work. As the BMJ paper says, the NHS needs to 'choose wisely'.

The BMJ paper comes to some interesting conclusions, all expressed in terms that are as uncritical to conventional medical treatment as possible.

  • Doctors should provide patients with resources that increase their understanding about potential harms of interventions and help them accept that doing nothing can often be the best approach.
This is, of course, a statement about the value of what conventional medicine has to offer, and the safety of its treatment.
  • Patients should be encouraged to ask questions such as, “Do I really need this test or procedure? What are the risks? Are there simpler safer options? What happens if I do nothing?”
Patients have never been encouraged by conventional medicine to ask questions, or to seek safer treatments. If they were to do this, and patients become aware of the limited, even spurious benefits of conventional treatment, and the availability of homeopathy, and other traditional medicines, it would have serious implications for the dominance of drug based medicine. 
  • Medical schools should ensure that students develop a good understanding of risk alongside critical evaluation of the literature and transparent communication. Students should be taught about overuse of tests and interventions. Organisations responsible for postgraduate and continuing medical education should ensure that practising doctors receive the same education.
This indicates that the key staff of the conventional medical establishment are currently working from the premise that drug-dominated medicine is good for us, that we will be healthier if only we used more of it, quite regardless of outcome, quite regardless of cost, and quite regardless of the harm it causes to patients.
  • Commissioners should consider a different payment incentive for doctors and hospitals.
This suggests that not only are medical staff not taught about the overuse of conventional medical treatments, they are given the profit-driven incentives to use and overuse more of it.

The failure of the medical system we have increasingly relied up during the last 70 years lurks beneath the issues raised in this BMJ article. Conventional medicine has always faced three significant issues or disadvantages.
  • It is the most expensive of all medical therapies (and it is now causing the bankruptcy of national health services throughout the world).
  • It is the most dangerous of all medical therapies (and it is now causing epidemics of chronic disease in areas of the world where it dominates medical services).
  • It is the most ineffective of all medical therapies (which leads to populations becoming sicker, and unable to cope with patients demand for treatment).
So it is not just that 85% of conventional medical treatments are 'useless' (probably an underestimate) it is that what it offers is too ineffective, too dangerous, and too expensive. Radical as this MBJ articles might seem, there is a need for a much more fundamental re-think of how health care is delivered to patients.

There is an urgent need to recognise that conventional medicine is failing, and that homeopathy, and other traditional therapies have to be embraced.