Recently a practitioner of Chinese medicine pleaded guilty to selling a banned substance to a woman who went on to develop kidney failure and cancer.
I had an interview with BBC Manchester China Town programme on this case (broadcasted on 21/02/2010). Here is the summary of this interview.
Q: How does a patient know whether the “Chinese doctor” they are consulting has the right qualifications to practise in the UK? Is there anything a patient should look out for?
A: Currently in the UK, if a practitioner registers with a certain professional body and has insurance, then he has the right to practise in the UK. There are several bodies, such as BAcC, ATCM, RCHM etc. Normally it is those bodies who check out a practitioner’s qualification.
It is hard to tell a patient what he should look out for. If I were the patient, I would certainly ask things like educational background, previous working experience, etc.
Q: The medicine that allegedly caused the victim to develop kidney failure and cancer is called “Xie Gan Wan” which is often sold as an over the counter medicine and can be obtained easily. Is it true?
A: Yes, the alleged medicine is Xie Gan Wan. In fact, it is one ingredient of this compound, called Mu Tong, or precisely Guan Mu Tong. Guan Mu Tong has renal toxin due to its aristolochic acid ingredient, so it has been banned in the UK since 1997, and in many countries, including China. In China, doctors are advised to use other herbs to substitute Guan Mu Tong.
Q: Can over-the-counter Chinese medicine cause adverse side effects on patients if it’s consumed for longer than is necessary?
A: Firstly, I would like to say that being an OTC drug doesn’t mean there are no side effects at all. We see all the time OTC drugs in pharmacies with side effects clearly written on the boxes. Therefore, what this tells us, I think, is that even buying an OTC drug, we should buy it from a qualified practitioner with sufficient knowledge to support and advise us.
Secondly, in China, Chinese medicine is part of the mainstream, along with western medicine. Our training includes western medicine as well, which is half the time of our 5-year training. When a prescription is made, patient will be told whether there will be side effects, what kinds of side-effect might occur, when he needs come back for another consultation, whether and when he needs to have his kidney and liver functions checked, etc. All those are measures to make a prescription taken safely. I remember, when I was trained, we were told that every drug or herb could be toxin if not been administered properly. So, practitioner is the key.
Q: Should the patient’s GP be able to advise the patient on the herbal medicine prescribed by a Chinese medicine practitioner? Would a GP have the specialist knowledge to approve or disapprove the drug being prescribed by a Chinese medicine practitioner?
A: It is not realistic in this country. As Chinese herbal medicine is not in the mainstream, I don’t think GP are willing to approve it. I would like it happen, but I can’t see it in a foreseeable future.
Q: What advice can you give to our audience to prevent a similar incident happening to them?
A: First and foremost, check practitioner’s qualification, educational background, etc.
Second, during consultation, tell your practitioner all the problems you have, not problems you think are relent, you never know if it is relevant.
Then, bear in mind, Chinese medicine is still one kind of medicine, don’t take it as a supplement like vitamin. When you think of having Chinese medicine, or you are having it, make sure that you have someone with a wealth of knowledge and experience to guide and support you.