THE CHINESE MEDICINE MINEFIELD; GoodHealth Chinese Medicine Clinics Are Popping Up on Every High Street.Many Are Reputable- but Others Are Totally Unlicensed, Give Bizarre Diagnoses for Potentially Serious Illnesses, and Charge a Fortune for Dubious Cocktails of Herbs SPECIAL INVESTIGATION

Article excerpt

Byline: BARNEY CALMAN;BARNEY CALMAN

THE doctor checks my pulse and inspects my tongue. Then, the clinic's receptionist, who is squeezed into one corner of the windowless room of the Health Oriental Medicine Centre and acting as translator, gives Dr Jaing's diagnosis.

The increasingly severe, agonising headaches, nausea, and dizziness I have been suffering from for the past three weeks have, she says, been caused by 'wind' that has entered my brain.

'How did wind get into my brain?' I ask.

'Natural wind from outside blows in and gets trapped, causing problems,' translates the receptionist, waving her fingers mystically in front of her face. The doctor nods. Perhaps sensing my confusion, she adds that I shouldn't worry, it is 'not serious problem'.

I can be cured with six sessions of acupuncture, one a week, costing [pounds sterling]150, a week's supply of herbal tablets, costing [pounds sterling]20, and a specially concocted tea to be drunk twice a day, for [pounds sterling]35.

'If you have all together, is most powerful effect.

Just one alone, less powerful. If you start treatment immediately we can cure you for ever,' promises the receptionist.

Explaining that I need to think carefully, I leave the West London clinic.

In reality, I'm in need of no treatment, medical or otherwise.

Clinics such as this one, offering traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) - a combination of herbal remedies and acupuncture - have mushroomed on High Streets across the UK since their emergence in the late Eighties. According to the Department of Trade and Industry, more than one in ten of us have used Chinese medicine at some point.

The number of individual practitioners has increased from around 200 in 1988 to more than 3,000 today - a figure based on membership of the three main TCM self-governing bodies: the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine and the British Acupuncture Council.

All three demand their practitioners are trained to degree level in TCM.

Undergraduate and masters courses in Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture are offered by leading universities such as Bristol.

However, membership of these organisations is voluntary and industry experts worry about possibly thousands of unregistered TCM practitioners working in the UK today. While the regulators provide a strict code of practice governing ethics and conduct for their members - and discipline any who break those rules - there are no such guidelines or restrictions on unregistered TCM practitioners.

AS A result, insiders worry that the industry has become littered with poorly-trained or unscrupulous doctors, cashing in on the popularity of TCM, offering unnecessary treatments. They are also unable to recognise and diagnose serious medical conditions.

Traditional Chinese medicine itself, based on 3,000 years of practice, is wellestablished. China currently devotes around 25 per cent of its annual health budget to supporting TCM therapies - used in conjunction with modern Western medicine - to treat a range of conditions from irritable bowel syndrome to eczema and erectile dysfunction.

Treatment is usually a combination of herbal remedies - either taken in tablet form or as a 'tea' of various barks, roots and herbs - and acupuncture.

By assessing the patient's pulse and tongue colour, and taking into account sleep patterns, dietary habits, and other lifestyle factors, a Chinese doctor will prescribe a tailor-made course of action.

Traditional Chinese medicine has been tested according to Western scientific protocols. Recent studies have found acupuncture is effective in treating postoperative pain and nausea, and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy.

Scientists believe it works by causing the release of 'feel-good' chemicals known as endorphins in the body, and also by providing a stimulus that interrupts the pain messages to the brain. …