Could the problems of delayed diagnosis or dangerous advice be avoided with tighter regulation and better training in CAM? Could this stop vulnerable or desperate people being relieved of their cash by charlatans and quacks? How can patients find out who to trust?
Can anyone call themselves a homeopath or an osteopath? (Osteopathy was the first CAM to be properly regulated, and only those practitioners who have attained a prescribed level of training can call themselves osteopaths). What about crystal therapists? Doctors can go on day courses and call themselves acupuncturists, whereas traditional practitioners of Chinese medicine see their training as a lifelong project.
How does regulation in the CAM world compare with the “conventional” medical world? How have internal political power struggles within CAM slowed progress in this area? The House of Lords Select Committee report recommends that each therapy should have a single regulatory authority with clear guidelines on competency and training – how likely is that, and what are the hurdles? At the moment, most practitioners are free to practise as they like after they are qualified – should CAM therapists be subject to the same sort of five-yearly revalidation that doctors now have to undergo?
We speak to students of CAM at various stages of their training – comparing, say, the four year or longer training in osteopathy with a two day course in aromatherapy massage. Given that many therapies incorporate a considerable element of diagnosis, some have argued that therapists should do more basic medical science training (in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology). Is this another example of medical colonialism?
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First broadcast: Tuesday 21 Sep 2004 on BBC Radio 4