HL Deb 24 June 1998 vol 591 cc237-9

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

On what criteria the Homerton Hospital recently closed the provision of acupuncture in its Rheumatology Department.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, this service has not been funded by the hospital's main purchaser—that is, the East London and the City Health Authority—since 1st April 1997. The hospital has however provided the service unfunded in 1997–98 but is unable to do so this year. Availability of complementary therapies within the health service always reflects decisions taken locally about the clinical and cost effectiveness of such services and the priority to be given to their provision in the light of other competing demands. Alternative methods of funding this service at Homerton Hospital are currently being investigated.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I declare an interest as chairman of the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board. Is she aware that the cost of this service, which had been running successfully since January 1995, has been a mere £7,000 a year; and that an independent evaluation showed that over 80 per cent. of patients surveyed reported a reduction in pain; and several were also able to reduce their medication? Does she agree that any criteria which allow such an effective low-cost service to be closed need re-examination?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as I said in my opening reply, alternative methods of funding that service are being looked at by the Homerton Hospital, which may share some of the noble Earl's concerns about its effectiveness. The noble Earl was kind enough to tell me that he would raise the question of that independent evaluation. The Department of Health has no record of such an evaluation. I shall of course be happy to discuss it with the noble Earl if he wishes to pursue it later.

Earl Howe

My Lords, will the proposed national institute for clinical excellence have a role in determining what complementary therapies should be made available under the NHS and for what types of clinical condition? If so, how will it arrive at a balanced assessment of the cost-effectiveness of such treatments?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the national institute for clinical excellence will have a role in looking, in the first instance, at new therapies and the ways in which, for example, expensive new conventional drug therapies should be introduced into the NHS. Its capacity to look at existing complementary therapies has not been explicitly decided, but it will be something that will be available for consultation when the consultation paper on the detail of the national institute for clinical excellence is published shortly.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, does the Minister accept the authority and integrity of the Research Council for Complementary Medicine, which confirmed the authenticity and efficiency of the practice at the hospital? In the light of the recommendation from that august body, is it not unusual that the hospital should have stopped it?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as I said in my original reply to the noble Earl, we are of course aware of the Research Council for Complementary Medicine. Some of its projects are funded directly through the Department of Health. However, this piece of research is not known to the Department of Health. I explained in my original Answer that the decision not to fund this local service was taken on the basis of local priorities.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, in how many hospitals within the UK are alternative therapies such as acupuncture provided?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, it is difficult to say how many hospitals provide it, but I am aware that 40 per cent. of GPs who work within the NHS refer patients for complementary therapies when they think that it is appropriate.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that this case represents something of a pattern of reductions in complementary therapies around the place, doubtless because this way of cutting back is seen as a soft option by health authorities and hospitals?

Baroness Jay

My Lords, I cannot confirm that. I am afraid I do not think that the national figures on that are acquired in the form that the noble Earl suggests. The Government have suggested, especially through my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's speech to the conference on complementary and alternative medicine last month, that they see an important role for complementary medicine, although they expect that in the future it will be provided mostly by the independent sector.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government have a view on the effectiveness of acupuncture?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the Government do not take a view on the effectiveness of clinical therapies, but the NHS health technology assessment programme is commissioning research into acupuncture, specifically for the management of back pain, because, on anecdotal evidence at least, that condition seems to be one in which many patients have experienced an improvement.

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