Interest grows in 'new' cures

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The Independent Online

One in four Scottish GPs has already taken a "crash course" in complementary medicine in response to demand from patients, the Ciba Foundation on complementary therapies was told yesterday.

And of 700 Glasgow medical students questioned, nearly four-fifths said they wanted complementary medicine, which includes homeopathy and acupuncture, to be part of an undergraduate curriculum, Dr David Reilly, consultant physician at Glasgow Homeopathy hospital, said.

But medical schools had not shifted in line with public interest, leaving doctors out of touch with such methods. "Their feelings were summed up in one sentence: 'Our patients know more than we do'," he said. "Health care professionals are entering the community in ignorance."

Professor Edzard Ernst, from the Centre for Complementary Health Studies at Exeter University, said UK medical schools believed in teaching what students needed to know rather than what they wanted to know.

In the US, by contrast, between 25 and 30 medical schools out of a total of 140 now taught complementary medicine. Dr Ted Kaptchuk, of the Center for Alternative Medicine Research, Beth Israel Hospital, Harvard, added: "The UK is usually ahead in education but for some curious reason research [in complementary medicine] in the US is ahead of the UK."

In 1991-92, the NHS spent an estimated pounds 1m on complementary medicine out of a total budget of pounds 37bn. Dr Adrian White, also from Exeter's Centre for Complementary Health, said that the public themselves spent between pounds 500m and pounds 1bn.

However, he warned: "An acupuncture needle may cost the same as a painkiller, but one has to bear in mind that consultations can take six times as long and patients may have to attend 10 times as frequently."