Wednesday, 18 October 2017

An Alternative NHS?

The NHS wants to stop patient access to homeopathy. They initiated a consultation exercise asking our opinion, part of a 'saving money' initiative. I blogged about this in July, 'Banning Homeopathy on the NHS'. Following the Department of Health's response to a petition opposing this, I wrote another blog, 'Homeopathy, the NHS, and Patient Choice'. Given the vested interests that control the NHS, both asked whether homeopathy should want to be, or continue to be part of the NHS. I also raised the question, almost rhetorically, whether it would not be better to establish an 'alternative' NHS that offered patients a variety of traditional therapies. In this blog, I want to develop that idea.

My blogs, so far, have focused on the negative aspects of the current situation. The NHS is now completely hostile to alternative medical therapies, especially homeopathy. The NHS is now completely controlled by the conventional medical establishment, which is itself is completely controlled by the pharmaceutical industry. This is making it almost impossible to debate health issues with these powerful vested interests as they just repeat their mantras, 'there is no evidence that homeopathy works'.

At the same time the government says that it supports 'patient choice', that there should be within the NHS 'no decision about me without me'. Yet whilst this might be their policy, their actions say otherwise. They are intent on restricting and denying patient choice, not developing it.

As I predicted, the homeopathic community is going to fight this, and I am aware of its plans to do so. Indeed, they may be quite right to respond to yet another attack on health freedom. My question is, should we bother? Should we, instead, set up some kind of 'alternative NHS' that provides patients with real patient choice?

The case for doing so is a strong one, but it is one that will require considerable work and effort to establish - and it is something we should seek to do alongside our colleagues from other alternative medical therapies, who suffer equal neglect and marginalisation.

1. A Declaration of Independence.
Homeopathy is different to conventional medicine. In most crucial respects it is superior. It is more effective. It is safer. It is less expensive. It is inferior only in one important respect. It is not organised, it has no structure. Patients, even those who know that we exist, don't know what we do, or even how how to find us in their locality.

The conventional medical establishment clearly does not want us. We are a threat to their virtual monopoly within the NHS. They are trying to get rid of us. We are not welcome. And most people, most organisations, do not thrive within hostile environments. Homeopathy is no different. So leaving the NHS, voluntarily, would be like declaring our independence. It would be liberating, invigorating.

2. A Declaration of Disassociation
NHS medicine, dominated as it is by pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines, is failing, fast. Conventional medicine is failing for many reasons. Its drugs and vaccines do not work, they are not effective in treating the epidemics of chronic disease that are creating demands the NHS cannot cope with. Worse, it is the side effect and adverse reactions of pharmaceutical drugs are causing these illness and disease epidemics.

The result is that the NHS is virtually bankrupt. It cannot recruit sufficient staff to meet the ever-increasing demand for health care, the epidemic levels of chronic illness, which, in significant part, have been caused by dangerous drugs and vaccines. It is difficult to get a doctor's appointment, and the NHS is finding it difficult to recruit more doctors. Waiting lists for treatments and operations are growing. Accident and Emergency services throughout the country are at breaking point.

Does homeopathy want to be part of this failure? The NHS does not use homeopathy to any significant degree, so there is little that the homeopathic community is going to lose. Homeopathy has survived throughout the world for over 220 years, and it has done so without the support of national health service schemes.

3. A Declaration for Safe Medicine
Conventional medicine harms patients. Iatrogenic (doctor-induced) disease is rife. In the past many pharmaceutical drugs have been either banned or withdrawn. Today, the drugs and vaccines doctors are using are heavily restricted because of the patient harm they are known to cause. Medical science and the drug regulatory process has completely failed to protect patients from iatrogenic harm.

Homeopathy is safe medicine. Why should it want to be associated with a medical system that has caused illness and disease through its side effects, killed millions, and continues to do so every year. Homeopathy can, and probably should stand on its own, and declare that it is different. Why do we need to work with medics who tell us that any medicine or treatment, to be useful, has to be harmful?

4. A Declaration in favour of Effective Medicine
Homeopaths often say that we treat people who are ill, not illness itself. Whilst this is true, we rarely sit back and think about how different we are. For instance, we don't want patients to tell us they have arthritis, we want to know when that arthritis is worse, and when better; whether it is better or worse for exercise; and a whole host of other individual symptoms. Homeopaths don't believe that illness is caused by bacteria and viruses, just why we have become susceptible to them. We don't believe that we have an ability to prevent and cure human illness and disease, but we do know that we have knowledge of, and access to remedies that will help the body heal itself.

Homeopathy is effective medicine because it understands what causes illness that relates to the real, observable world. And through our Materia Medica (knowledge of what symptoms remedies will treat), and over two centuries of clinical experience, we know that they work. And we know that they work because we see them working. We do not create illness and disease with our remedies, we treat them successfully, we cure them. Why do we think that we need to work with a medical system that has overseen such a prodigious increase in illness and disease?

5. A Declaration of Our Existence!
So where on earth are we? Do we exist within the NHS? Only a handful of doctor-homeopaths operate from there. Most homeopaths work independently, in their local communities. So how do we operate within these communities. Do homeopaths have high visibility? Can anyone living there find us easily?

The fact is that homeopathy has never been well organised. At best, we are a collection of well-intentioned individuals, working alone, in isolation, relying on the successful treatment of patients to get us more widely known. This can work well. But it cannot be called 'organisation'. And if homeopathy does decide it has had enough of the NHS, its myopia and its hostility, we will need to organise. We will have to declare that we are here, we do exist. How do we do this?

The Need for an Alternative NHS
Homeopathy needs an organisation within which to base our practice. It should not be an organisation that restricts how homeopathy practices, what we can and cannot do. Homeopaths are healers, and we all have their own ways of operating. Homeopaths do not need an organisation that restricts us - but our patients need an organisation that makes us visible!.

If someone becomes sick, what do they do? They do what is easiest, closest to hand. They contact NHS Choices, or go to their GP surgery, or to the local hospital. They do so because that is how conventional medicine has organised. If patients want to use homeopath what do they do? Are we in Yellow Pages? Are we on the internet? Perhaps the surgery, or the local pharmacy, or our hospital will know. Or perhaps not!

And how much does homeopathy cost? NHS treatment is free. It may not work, it may not be safe - but it IS free! This is the big argument about staying within the NHS. Poorer people, entitled to free NHS treatment, are unlikely to opt to pay for homeopathy. Yet this argument fails in two ways.

  • It ignores the important fact that most people, in most parts of the country, are already denied access to homeopathy. 
  • And it ignores the fact that homeopathy has failed to organise, to work within an organisation that people know about, and can find easily, that offers homeopathy at that stressful time when illness strikes.

Other Alternative Therapies
I am a homeopath, and I have focused on homeopathy. There are many other alternative practitioners, and they all have the same problem. They are all excluded from the NHS, and the conventional medical establishment is hostile to them. So similar things can be said about their current organisation, or the lack of it. No-one knows for certain what they do, or for whom, where they can be found, and how much it will cost.

There is every reason for alternative medical therapies to join together in such an enterprise.

Each therapy has similar problems. Each therapy seeks to cure patients without the need for pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines. Each therapy provides a safer, gentler, more effective medical discipline that relies on helping the body heal itself. So why not join together. It makes imminent sense.

So how can alternative medicine organise itself. What would such an organisation look like? How would practitoners relate to it? How will patients find it? And how will treatment be funded?

An Alternative Health Service (AHS)
The organisation will need a name, and a logo that people will be easily recognised. For the sake of simplicity, lets call it AHS - the Alternative Health Service. The first objective should for AHS to develop, gradually, over time, a presence in every community Many communities already have independent health centres devoted to alternative medical therapies. These could all be invited to work under the auspices of the AHS, completely independently.

      1. Practitioners
Qualified and registered health practitioners, whether they be homeopaths, osteopaths, acupuncturists, herbalists, naturopaths, reflexologists, would sign up to the aims and objective or the AHS - which would be simply to offer their services to patients who are searching for safe and effective medical treatment. When they treat patients the AHS will pay their fee.

     2. Patients
The AHS would be largely funded by patients. There is no alternative to this when our government is totally, myopically committed to an ineffective and unsafe medical system based on pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines, and whilst it remains so hostile to alternative medical therapies.

  • Patients would pay a small monthly fee to enable them to access the treatment of an AHS practitioner.
  • Patients who are unable to pay the monthly fee could apply to AHS for emergency funding.
  • Every patient who undergoes a course of treatment will be asked to provide information about their treatment, and the outcomes of that treatment.

     3. Local Health Centres
These may be existing health centres, who affiliate to AHS, or new ones. Alternative therapists may practice from the premises, or they might prefer to practice elsewhere.

Each centre would identify and approve therapists, seeking to ensure that they have access to therapists from the complete range of therapeutic disciplines.

The centres would be a drop-in point for local patients, where they can seek information and advice, book appointments with therapists, and sign up to the AHS scheme.

In addition, each centre would liaise with local GP surgeries and hospitals. They would pass on information about the functioning of the centre, and how doctors can make referrals to them. When the surgery makes a referral, they would be charged the full cost of an initial period of treatment, plus an administration fee.

     4. The AHS
The central AHS organisation would oversee all this operation, setting guidelines and standards for both affiliated health centres, and therapists, without seeking to restrict or control their practice.

     * AHS would identify existing, and establish new health centres. It would develop simple and unobtrusive guidelines for the operation of each of the centres.

     * AHS would approve therapists submitted by each of these centres.

     * AHS would register patients, and receive their monthly payments. It would pay therapists for the work they do with registered patients.

     * AHS would also seek patrons, people who support the concept, principles and work of the AHS, and who are able to make donations towards its work, and help to subsidise emergency or urgent treatment.

     * AHS would manage a scheme to fund emergency or urgent treatment for patients who cannot afford to pay the monthly fee.

     * AHS would also keep a database of treatment outcomes from Health Centres, and publish these on a regular basis.

     5. The Fee Structure
The AHS should be run by people who are well versed with alternative medical therapies, and can operate the system without encroaching on freedom of therapists to practice. However, as this is essentially a health insurance scheme, it would be important that an insurance company ran this particular aspect of the business.

  • Patients would pay their monthly fee to the AHS, or the insurance agent.
  • The AHS, or the insurance agent, would pay the local health centre who generated the business.
  • The local health centre would pay the therapist for their work undertaken.

Prospects?
No business works unless there is a demand, and there is undoubtedly a demand for safe and effective  medical treatment. At the moment no alternative therapy is organised to systematically tap into this demand.

The proposed AHS would have to be sympathetically led by entrepreneurial business people who were tuned in to the principles and ideals of all the medical therapies they promote.

The proposed AHS would have to be efficiently managed by people who understand the principles and operations of health insurance, and were able to make it an affordable option for most people and their families.

The proposed AHS, along with local health centres, would have to promote alternative therapists efficiently.

If all this were done demand for alternative medicine would quickly increase, and initially AHS might struggle to meet patient demand, particularly in areas where there has been little previous development or promotion of alternative medicine.

Beyond this, the venture will succeed in line with the success of the treatment.

  • Curing a patient will increase demand on a 'word of mouth' basis, as it has always done for alternative medical therapies. 
  • Demand will increase with the ongoing failure of the NHS, its failure to meet demand, its inability to offer timely appointments with doctors.
  • Most important, demand will increase when the outcome surveys mentioned above show that alternative medicine is more effective in the treatment of illness.
If this happened, the government and the department of health would find themselves in some difficulty. They would be funding an NHS, who were offering a medicine, that people no longer wanted. Patients would vote with their feet! 
  • Patients are voters. 
  • Voters influence the result of elections. 
  • Elections determine who our politicians are. 
  • Politicians, to be elected, will want to give people what they want.
  • Politicians determine governments.
  • Governments run the Department of Health.
  • The Department of Health controls the health budget.
Soon, the department would be trying to work out why doctors are under-occupied in their surgeries, why Accident and Emergency departments are no longer struggling to cope, and start asking about all these AHS Health Centres, and why they are so popular. Shortly afterwards, the department would be running down their support for the failing, or failed NHS, and asking the AHS whether it needed any of the spare cash it had because the NHS no longer had many patients.

Could any of this be achieved if homeopathy remains content to be an unwanted, irritating, and insignificant part of the NHS?