By MARTIN JOHNSTON health reporter
Alternative therapies, from acupuncture to centuries-old Indian medicine, will go under the Government microscope in a bid to boost consumer protection and widen the health service's scope.
With growing numbers seeking holistic alternatives to mainstream medicine, the Government has picked up a Green Party idea to set up a committee on alternative or "complementary" health care.
The move follows controversy about child cancer patient Liam Williams-Holloway, whose parents last year took him out of conventional treatment.
The committee will advise the Minister of Health, Annette King, on whether practitioners should be regulated. It will review overseas evidence on complementary therapies, investigate their benefits, risks and costs, and advise on whether they should be integrated into mainstream health.
Annette King said yesterday that the Government was not interested in "quackery," but alternative treatments proven safe and effective could be added to the public health system and state-funded.
Greens health spokeswoman Sue Kedgley said the committee would look at therapies including acupuncture, osteopathy, naturopathy, homeopathy, Chinese medicine, and Indian Ayurvedic medicine - but not nutritional supplements, which were being addressed in legislation being developed.
The party wanted to see alternative therapies practised alongside conventional medicine in health clinics and hospitals, she said. But it also wanted tighter regulations to protect patients.
Dr Michael Sullivan, the Dunedin paediatric cancer specialist who treated Liam, said last night that there needed to be tighter regulations. Many alternative-health practitioners were responsible and caring, but some were charlatans.
The Medical Association welcomed the move to scrutinise alternative therapies to the same extent as conventional medicine.
Dr Kenneth McIver, research director of the Charter of Health Practitioners, which represents alternative-health practitioners, said that if the committee were given the right members and did its job well, the public's health could improve and the Government might be able to spend less on health.