Hospital ditches natural therapy

By Anne-Marie Emerson

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Wanganui Hospital has dropped a controversial natural therapy programme, despite receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from staff about it.

The natural therapy pilot offered staff access to a wide range of therapeutic services including massage, reiki, colour therapy, traditional Maori healing and prayer with the hospital chaplain.

The aim was to improve hospital staff's health and well-being, and did not include patients.

The programme - the brainchild of Gilbert Taurua, director of Maori health, and emergency physician Chris Cresswell - started on August 20 and was due to finish on November 19. However, it was discontinued on September 19 after only a month.

The decision was made by Mr Taurua and hospital chief executive Julie Patterson, based on a recommendation from the hospital's medical staff association.

Mrs Patterson said that some senior hospital staff were concerned that publicity over the pilot "will have created confusion and possibly anxiety among the community we are here to serve".

"Rather than risk this confusion, after discussion and advice from the medical staff association, the director of Maori health and myself have decided to bring the pilot to a close," Mrs Patterson said.

She said the decision was made "with regret" .

"It is important to note that we had no concerns whatsoever about the practice and behaviour of the therapists involved in the pilot."

However, a source who did not wish to be identified, suggested some senior doctors recommended the trial be stopped because it was contrary to their religious beliefs.

The source also suggested there was "an element of self-interest" in the medical staff association's recommendation.

A discussion paper about the natural health pilot will be brought to the Whanganui District Health Board's meeting on Friday.

That paper, written by Mr Taurua, contains an appendix with feedback from the 75 staff members who used the natural therapy services.

The feedback was entirely positive, with 100 per cent of those who contributed feedback saying they benefited from the service, would use it again and would recommend it to others.

Comments were equally favourable. Staff reported feeling peaceful, relaxed, less tense, energised, had reduced pain and breathed easier.

They said the therapists involved were kind and intuitive.

The only negative responses were around the continuing provision of the service.

Staff said they wanted the trial to extend beyond three months, they wanted the service to be "totally supported and recognised" and they wanted the service to be available to patients.

Some also said they would have liked more privacy while using the service and others said they would have liked more explanation from the therapist about how the therapy works.

Mrs Patterson acknowledged the positive responses to the pilot and did not rule out offering natural therapy in the future.

"We hope that in future we will be able to engage again with our clinical staff to explore ways in which the DHB can support the use of alternate therapies for those people who wish to use them," she said.

The pilot caused some controversy when it was first announced in July.

It was criticised by some DHB members, including surgeon Clive Solomon, who described it as "bone-throwing".

"Best practice, evidence-based medicine is the foundation of the scientific practice of medicine. Other modalities might have their place [but] in other areas [and] under different governance," Mr Solomon said.

Michael Laws was more dismissive, calling the trial "a seriously stupid decision" that had not been to the board for discussion.

The pilot did not cost the DHB or the taxpayer anything and staff members who used the service were asked to make a koha (voluntary donation).

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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