Hips trump Reiki every time

Janet is in her mid-sixties and in chronic pain with osteoarthritis of the hip. She has other medical conditions, which are being further compromised by her lack of mobility.

Instead of waiting months for an appointment and then months for an operation, she has decided to go privately. She is not wealthy and it will cost over £6,000, but she can't take it any longer. That's Northern Ireland's health service for you.

We know that the NHS can't do everything; the sick will always be with us, people are living longer, new, expensive diagnostic tests and treatments are constantly coming on stream and there will never be enough funding to cope.

As one example out of many, there isn't enough funding to support more orthopaedic services; when resources are being rationed, replacement hips for old people are well down the list.

Northern Ireland is a poor country, with very little local industry; 60 per cent of people here work either directly or indirectly for the government. We are financed by a huge annual subvention from the rest of the UK; essentially, you pay us to manage ourselves. Funds are limited, and must be allocated as frugally as possible.

And then this morning I received a letter informing us that the health minister, Paul Goggins has 'announced a fund to pilot a complementary and alternative medicine service in Northern Ireland' and has given a commitment to roll out the service across Northern Ireland.

He continued: 'Complementary and alternative medicine have proven in certain circumstances to be extremely helpful,' and 'it is important that both the conventional and complementary sectors work together'.

I'd like to see the evidence that complementary and alternative therapies are effective. It's a contradiction in terms; if the evidence is there, then Reiki, iridology and reflexology ain't alternative any more. And just what it is the 'conventional' sector? It's a pejorative way of describing those of us who use treatments that actually have been proven to work; are we closed-minded or what?

It gets even worse. This announcement was made, apparently, to a 'packed room of health professionals from a wide range of disciplines'.

Which begs the question: was there nobody among them who had the gumption to stand up and say: 'Minister, this is a load of shite. We have waiting lists for every condition under the sun, and you are wasting our scarce resources on this garbage, this Sunday magazine feature conceit.'

But if the British are picking up the tab, who cares?

- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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