Will NHS cuts force cancer patients to seek unproven remedies?

With longer waiting lists, will patients

look for unproven ‘alternative’ remedies?

Waiting lists are getting longer, and cancer patients who  want help with recovery – such as exercise classes – are being told that GPs are reluctant to refer them “as it puts a strain on our budget”.

When Cameron, Lansley et al set out to reform the NHS, their heart was in the right place, but they had no experience in dealing with NHS Administration.

Quite rightly, they said that the NHS was top heavy with Administrators, and vowed to get rid of a huge layer.

What they didn’t realise was that Administrators are entrenched – they were used to defending their positions – and were unlikely to go quietly.

So the consequence in our neck of the woods is not Administrators being culled, but instead 126 jobs for senior CNS, head Physios, head OTs, etc. are threatened. Deemed to be ‘Administrators’  because they lead teams of highly-trained professionals, we risk losing the very people on whom we rely, just so that Administrators can tick the boxes and say they have cut down on X number.  Pathetic – but no-one at Dept. Health had thought through what would happen.

So what must we do to ensure what we need is preserved?

‘Patients must be empowered’ is a constant cry from medical professionals, concerned with cutbacks.  Whilst they see what is happening, they are also concerned with wastage that goes unchecked,  and that some untried treatments are still being offered.

This was fine whilst the NHS had money to burn, but today every pound spent must be on proven benefits.  Whilst some GP practices are going overboard to offer alternative therapies, we must ensure that what is on offer has been proven to work.  There has been a movement to mix Complementary treatments with Alternative therapies, under the heading CAM.  This must be resisted – one has been proven to work – the other not.

More is explained in the book Trick or Treatment;  both its authors have been in the news recently:  Edzard Ernst was on TV only this week talking about therapies, and Simon Singh had a long battle through the courts when one group tried to silence his comments.  In their book they take various treatments, from Acupuncture to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and show if there have been clinical trials – or not.

Simon Singh (with his Mohican hair-cut) has questioned the lack of scientific evidence for ‘headline’ alternative therapies.  In a recent talk he commented on  alternative treatments on offer, such as Hopi Ear candles; his comment was they would probably produce more wax than was already in your ear – and are banned in Canada.  But he goes on to commend the reputable Cochrane publications – why discount medical research on 3000 against anecdotal evidence from one person?

So before the NHS offers more alternative treatments, it needs to ensure that anything it offers has been proven to work.

Art Therapy

There are some alternative therapies that have been used to great benefit for patients, such as Art Therapy.  Breast cancer pioneer Prof. Michael Baum is passionate about his patients, and improving their life.  He advocates Art Therapy as a useful part of treatment, and has not only studied this, but whilst at the Royal Marsden hospital spent a great deal of time working to set this up as part of treatment.

In 2004 he had questioned Prince Charles and his pronouncements extolling the benefits of alternative therapies – and gained a lot of critical aclaim, so he isn’t afraid of controversy.  But when someone with his experience advocates patients receiving help from an art therapist – he knows what he is talking about!

But with the cuts being planned – you can just see hospital administrators pouring over their budgets, planning what they can cut – and Art Therapy is bound to be a prime target.

So if this is something you enjoy, and it helps you  – start defending it NOW!


The evidence FOR exercise keeps on coming.  Yet, where it has been proven, in certain circumstances, to reverse Osteoporosis, our local hospital refuses to let patients take part in exercise classes, saying that they are able to treat fractures, but don’t want to encourage patients to fill their classes.

This is the same authority that is threatening the jobs of senior physios, who, because they are Team Leaders, are classed as Administrators, and therefore may well be sacrificed in the drive to appease La La Lansley and his Ministerial Dictats.

If you are lucky enough to be able to take advantage of exercise classes – make sure your hospital is going to keep offering this effective treatment.

Watch out for charities

At the Britain Against Cancer Conference in December, Andrew Lansley drew shocked intakes of breath when he announced that, in future, the NHS was going to look more to Charities to make up the ‘shortfall’ in treatments.

Cancer charities are doing a fantastic job, and what they offer is what ordinary people feel is needed.  Some of them are noted for offering alternative therapies, and if that is what the founders feel passionately enough is needed, it is their money that is raised to offer these, so it is nothing to do with the Government or NHS.

But if the NHS decides that it is going to let charities take over mainstream treatments for cancer patients, so that the NHS can save money, then that is not acceptable.

Some charities are becoming very political, and perhaps straying away from what founding ‘fathers’ set them up to do.  If you are a Trustee of a charity, you may be in for a tough time defending what you believe in – and ensuring that you can still offer what you think patients need – rather than having to make up shortfalls in NHS treatment.

Today’s NHS

As a journalist I watch in horror at what is quietly happening in the NHS.   Like a dripping tap, small cuts and economies tend to go un-noticed – until you as the patient need them.

I go over to Europe and see how their healthcare is managed, and whatever the NHS tries to say, the average European is paying roughly the same as we do for healthcare.  The only difference is that many pay a combination of taxes and private insurance – and when it is a private insurance company picking up the tab, they are much more likely to question profligacy and overspending.

The NHS sorely needs a business-like approach to its spending budget.  And should stop deluding the British public.  Put the NHS house in order;  what about starting with a long, hard look at some of the contracts for supplying rubber gloves, cleaning services, photocopying machines, etc.

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