Yoga, pet and music therapy are being offered at public hospitals, with one district health board spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on alternative treatments for mental health patients. Capital & Coast DHB spent $270,389 in the past two financial years on providing alternative therapies, according to information released to the Sunday Star-Times under the Official Information Act. Natural Medicine Association vice-president and registered nurse Joe Sutich said most DHBs were nervous about spending public money on natural or alternative therapies, which are self-regulated.
“You’re dealing with institutionalisation where they’re always thinking they know best. They haven’t got broad enough minds to include alternative therapies to get better clinical outcomes for patients.
“Unfortunately there are people out there who call themselves natural therapists and they do all sorts of heebie-jeebie things and give us all a bad name.”
Waitemata DHB contracted massage and acupuncture therapists for staff and patients. It would not provide the cost or the number of people referred to these services in the past two years. Whanganui Hospital trialled a free natural therapy clinic last year to staff, offering a range of services including Christian prayer, reiki and massage.
The DHB spent $4777 on seeking legal opinions on the clinic, which treated 75 staff before the three-month trial ended early after emergency medicine specialist Chris Cresswell linked the clinic to witchcraft and wizardry.
The article also criticises the use of yoga, music therapy and pet therapy.
The mention of Yoga may be somewhat unfair as a 2010 literature review of the research on the use of yoga for treating depression said that preliminary research suggests that yoga may be effective in the management of depression. Both the exercise and the mindfulness meditation components may be helpful. However the review cautioned that “Although results from these trials are encouraging, they should be viewed as very preliminary because the trials, as a group, suffered from substantial methodological limitations.”
The Cochrane collaboration indicates that music therapy for people with depression is feasible and indicate a need for further research and other research has been conducted that suggests their may be a value to pet therapy.
This indicates that it is not always safe to throw the baby out with the bathwater when discussing “alternative” treatments. Just because something sounds weird doesn’t mean it won’t work: you still have to follow the evidence. Conversely hospital administrators and health services should not treat the label “alternative” as a free pass for treatments not to be evidence based or open to research scrutiny.
Fund what works, that which is proven by medical science to have an impact.