POLITICS

Published: 11/4/2002, Volume II2, No. 5800 Page 25

Our teenage friend, Sam, has had trouble with his right knee for as long as I can remember. Nor is it a sports injury of the kind that plagues my more energetic middle-aged friends. Of them the late Tory politician, Rab Butler, once sardonically explained: 'I do no exercise except to walk up hospital stairs to visit people who do.'

But Sam's mum is about to try him with acupunture. It is a sign of the times, one which naturally turned my thoughts to David Tredinnick.

As Conservative MP for Bosworth in Leicestershire since 1987, he is one of those politicians whom colleagues know is likely to ride his hobby-horse at every opportunity.

These include midnight adjournment debates, an intervention in the recent 'NICE blight' debate, even raising it when quizzing Tony Blair during Prime Minister's Qustions.

As a result, he is sometimes jokingly referred to as the Hon Member for Holland and Barrett.

Mr Tredinnick's hobby-horse is, of course, complementary medicine about which the DoH has been making more polite noises in recent months - plus pre-Christmas hints that yoga may find its way into NHS treatments.

There is a twin spur driving this plucky nag forward. One is public demand - an estimated 5 million users now, their interest partly driven by doubts about the efficacy or availability of high-tech western medicine.

The BMA, the House of Lords, a recent MIND report and NHS Direct have all had broadminded things to say, too.

The other spur is the drive to statutory selfregulation for practicioners of acupuncture, herbal and homeopathic medicines, once a matter for complex private legislation, now made much easier by the 1999 Health Act.Mr Tredinnick is an enthusiast for both and recently congratulated ministers on setting up working groups to examine regulatory options. 'Regulation builds confidence.'

'The tide is unstoppable, ' he told me at the weekend. 'Not just the huge media coverage, but the fact that the government has to move.

There is no way of meeting NHS demand unless we move towards a more integrated health service, which means making more use of the 50,000 or so complementary practicioneers - half of whom live on the breadline because they do not get paid much.'

In his recent Commons interventions, the MP has cited pioneering NHS work on acupuncture for maternity (at Plymouth's Derriford Hospital), in smoking cessation treatment (Claydon health centre, Manchester), the use of homeopathy to tackle difficult skin treatment (George Eliot Hospital, Warwickshire).He also wants NICE to investigate such options, well aware that there are risks and problems - mislabeling of Chinese 'steroids' caused deaths in Belgium.

As for calls for better evidence, Mr Tredinnick gently points out that 60,000 hospitals in China use this different tradition - and have been doing so for rather a long time.

In Mr Tredinnick's view, acupuncture should be regulated separately from herbalism - Indian and Chinese as well as western varieties - though those who dabble in both should not be required to pay two registration fees. He also wants some financial help from the government to ease this transition, a point on which Hazel Blears, the junior minister, was wisely cautious, though she did draw attention to£350,000 worth of safety research now under way.

For his part, the MP tells me he is worried about two draft EU directives, on traditional medicines and supplements - particularly the latter which (under what he calls 'restrictive Teutonic' influence) may outlaw pills which, as in the UK, combine vitamins and minerals.

I asked him why on the DoH website, South West region seems to be providing most guidance on complementary medicine. Touchyfeely types around Totnes and the faculty of complementary medicine at Exeter University, he briskly explained.

Why had he got involved himself? Back in 1976 he came off a horse (a real one) and cracked three vertebrae. It took a chiropractor to put him right.Then he married Mrs T who suffered migraines which the doctors couldn't solve. A homeopath sorted out her problem.Nuff said.