Alternative medicine makes come back

IN the last five years there has been an incredible surge in the popularity of complementary and alternative medicines across the world. Medical experts who once dismissed these practices as quack cures now recognise their importance in treating patient

IN the last five years there has been an incredible surge in the popularity of complementary and alternative medicines across the world.

Medical experts who once dismissed these practices as "quack cures" now recognise their importance in treating patients.

But there are still eminent surgeons and leading doctors who believe there is no place in the modern world for treatments which harness the body's energy to create harmony between mind, body and spirit to effect a cure.

Ely's Complementary Health Centre, however, is celebrating its 10th anniversary and the number of patients has soared from six a week to 350 a week in the last decade.

LESLEY INNES looks at the growing demand for alternatives to the NHS as the service which was born promising "free health care for all" spirals into debt and long waiting lists for investigative treatments.

UNTIL the early 20th Century, sick people relied on much the same kind of therapies as their ancestors to get better.

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Good doctors used the same skills as today's herbalists, osteopaths and dieticians - being generous with time and empathy and a good bed-side manner. Prayer was important as was a "change of air".

But after the Second World War, a series of medical breakthroughs appeared to prove beyond doubt that previous attempts at healing were nothing more than mere quackery.

As open heart surgery, hip replacements, kidney transplants, intensive care and successful vaccination programmes saved and improved the quality of millions of lives home remedies were abandoned.

Patients turned their backs on treatments such as massage, manipulation and dietary advice in favour of these new life-saving techniques.

But now with the NHS struggling under a burden of debt, patients are being encouraged to help themselves and the demand for alternative and complementary medicine is soaring and proving powerful.

GPs are referring their patients to the complementary therapists and their work is being used more and more to back up conventional medicine, including in the treatment of cancer patients.

Ten years ago osteopath Alex Spence decided to expand his successful work at the city's Atrium health centre by opening his own business.

His work assesses the state and mobility of the body's tissues - the bones, joints, muscles and connectives tissues - and by using a combination of stretching, moving and manipulating joints he aims to improve flexibility.

Alex's business, the Ely Complementary Health Centre in St Mary's Street opened with just six patients a week.

That was 10 years ago. Now there are 20 practitioners at the centre and another five based in Sutton helping 350 patients a week.

"When I started the business osteopathy was in the early days of being recognised," he said. "Ely grew by default and there was a need there.

"It's providing the patient with the most pertinent care at the fastest rate to health. It's about empowering them to be personally responsible for their health. The NHS disempowers people.

"People have to want to get better and we can offer the solutions to ensure that they do. That will always mean looking at their lifestyles.

"We treat every age and every social class. We have a role to play with the orthodox medical services and we have a good relationship with the GPs."

The centre offers a range of complementary treatments including homeopathy, acupuncture, clinical aromatherapy, reflexology, hypnotherapy, herbal medicine and nutrition analysis.

A 30-minute sessions costs £35 and most problems can be treated with up to four sessions. After the initial treatment patients are encouraged to maintain their health with a quarterly check-up.

"People take their health for granted until something goes seriously wrong," added Alex. "You wouldn't continue to drive your car with the oil light on or load the washing machine if there was a problem, yet we continually push our bodies to take on more.

"We are happy to spend £80 on repairing our cars but we object to giving £10 to improve our health.

"Very rarely do our bodies suddenly go wrong. We accumulate stress and it manifests itself in diverse ways.

"A person might come in with back pain but their life is in tatters. It's about enabling people to have a different perspective. It's about looking at the person as a whole and not being a reactionist which conventional medicine tends to do.

"The Government will not be able to cover all the NHS costs and more and more responsibility is going to fall on our shoulders and we are going to have to pay. It is all changing and change takes time."

Contact the Ely Complementary Health Centre at Sextry House, 29A St. Mary's Street, Ely or by telephone on 01353 664476. Alternatively get in touch by email at


# Complementary and alternative medicine dates back 5,000 years to traditional Chinese and Indian methods of healing the body and mind.

# The role of the 'doctor' was to facilitate the healing process by identifying and removing obstacles to health.

# There was a dramatic explosion in the growth of alternative therapies in the second half of the 20th Century, but many mainstream practitioners dismissed them as, at best, ineffective, and, at worst, fraudulent.

# Now one in four people in the UK use at least one form of alternative medicine and medical practitioners are often keen to recommend them as a route to improving overall health.