I have recently come back from the Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference which this year had the theme of ‘Security’. Together with colleagues I organised a session on the role of alternative spiritualities in promoting wellbeing in an age of insecurity. One of our speakers was Sandy Edwards, a volunteer healer at Good Hope Hospital in Birmingham. Sandy carries out healing in a gastroenterology ward, and the impact of healing offered by Sandy and her colleagues is currently being evaluated in a £205,000 controlled trial funded by the National Lottery. The results of the trial will be presented to the NHS at the end of the year to inform their decision around whether to introduce complementary therapy more widely in the management of conditions such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease – with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis being the two major IBD conditions).
This is something that Good Hope Hospital and the National Lottery are clearly taking seriously; trust the Daily Mail then to dismiss it as ‘voodoo’.
Alternative treatments are popular amongst people with IBS because it is widely recognised as a condition which is stress related and responds well to dietary changes. IBD however is very different and potentially much more serious. Whilst dietary changes can bring some relief to some sufferers, this is a disease where the bowel is inflamed, ulcerated and bleeding and it has to be managed with lifelong medication and often surgery. Not only do people living with IBD face a lifetime of very expensive medication and difficult to manage symptoms, they can also experience repeated hospital admissions to deal with acute flare ups requiring intravenous steroids, are highly likely to end up having to have surgery to remove part or all of the bowel, and face an increased risk of colorectal cancer. If they’re very unlucky they might die from toxic megacolon or bowel perforation. You can imagine this costs both the NHS and individual sufferers a lot of money – and can lead to a high degree of insecurity for patients!
And this is something I know about as I live with Ulcerative Colitis. So Sandy’s talk interested me not only from a professional point of view, but a personal one as well. If healing has the potential to provide any form of relief to help maintain remission for people living with Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis then surely this is something the NHS is right to take seriously. Longterm conditions are one of the biggest burdens on the NHS and social services in the UK, and spending a lifetime on heavy medications such as steroids and anti-inflammatories is no fun for anyone. I for one am waiting with eager anticipation to hear the results of Good Hope’s trial. Voodoo or not, if healing can help to relieve the pain and distressing symptoms of living with Ulcerative Colitis I’m more than willing to give it a try and it will certainly make me feel less insecure about my future health!