The Graceless Dr Michael Dixon OBE

In today’s Pulse, the magazine for GPs, a spat between Dr Michael Dixon and critics of alternative medicine has been reported. Dr Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, was accused of breaking GMC guidelines by issuing ‘misleading or incorrect’ statements about alternative medicine.

The NHS Alliance is not actually part of the NHS, but is an independent body that acts a bit like a club, lobby and research organisation into matters concerning NHS Primary Care Trusts. Professor Edzard Ernst has accused the NHS Alliance of proffering a ‘dangerously one-sided’ view of alternative medicine.

They [The NHS Alliance] are an important organisation and have a responsibility to have a balanced view. What I have seen on their website is disturbingly devoid of any critical evaluation.

Instead of addressing the concerns, Dixon hits back with an ad hominen attack by describing Ernst as ‘graceless’ and saying,

As a commentator who has never practised general practice in this country, Professor Ernst should stop lobbing grenades and telling us how to do our job.

The Alliance publishes a lot on alternative medicine; a surprising amount given that the evidence for the effectiveness of just about any alternative medicine is slim at best. The documents appear to come from either the chairman, Michael Dixon, or from Prince Charles’ quackery lobby group, the Foundation for Integrated Health (FIH). FIH is behind a lot of propaganda trying to push quackery into the NHS, so that it can get its hands on public money. Alternative Medicine traders have a basic problem: their market is limited to those who can afford their expensive and useless treatments – typically the middle class, middle aged and middle educated. If the NHS could refer and pay for treatments, then the market could really open up. The Foundation for Integrated Health furthers this agenda in many ways: a few days ago I wrote about the FIH funded company, GetWellUK, that has taken £200,000 of public money to produce a useless market survey into how patients felt after their GP had sent them off to see a quack.

Dr Michael Dixon OBE is clearly a big fan of alternative medicine, although, of course, he prefers the PR friendly term integrated medicine. Dixon runs his own GP practice in Devon. By the look of it, it is quite a smart place. The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health ran an article about it a few months ago: Integrated Health at Cullompton. The College Surgery boasts a “fully integrated service”. What this means is that after visiting your GP, you can go along a see one of a couple of dozen quacks who rent rooms within the surgery. FIH see this as a model practice, naturally, by bringing in techniques that, in their words, “lay well outside the GP’s sphere”.

Dr Dixon says ‘obviously not all patients can afford complementary help, but many therapists are charging reduced rates. Patients are often keen to try a therapy, if they think it will help with a condition.’ The offering is very wide: from massage, acupuncture and herbal medicine to healing and thought field therapy.

Wouldn’t it be a lot better if the NHS would pay for this? The Surgery offers all sorts of stuff including the batshit but humdrum nonsense of reflexology (your foot is connected to all your other organs though chi conducting meridians, or something), homeopathy (magic sugar pills cure all) and the discredited acupuncture (pins cure all). Dixon also rents rooms to freakier forms of fruitcakery. Frequencies of Brilliance is a technique that “is a unique energy healing technique that involves the activation of energetic doorways on both the front and back of the body.”

These doorways are opened through a series of light touches. This activation introduces high-level Frequencies into the emotional and physical bodies. It works within all the cells and with the entire nervous system which activates new areas of the brain.

Frequencies of Brilliance is referred to as a self-remembrance work because the activation that occurs as the body is touched awakens at the quantum level your spiritual aspect.[sic]

First class pseudoscience. I think that this is probably ‘well outside of the GP’s sphere’. I, for one, would be very alarmed if a colleage of my GP wanted to energetically activate my front and back doorways. 

I wonder if Dr Dixon would like to vouch for this technique and defend its theories? I hope this is just harmless fun. One technique at the surgery, however, makes rather alarming claims. A couple of therapists trade in something called Thought Field Therapy. This is a rather weird technique that appears to involves tapping various parts of the body whilst getting the mark, sorry patient, to do things like hum or count to five. Frighteningly, there are claims on the web that the founder of the technique believes “TFT can successfully treat physical illnesses such as Malaria in as little as 15 minutes”. I wonder if Dr Dixon would like to promote this to the NHS? Ernst complains that the “NHS Alliance dealt with public funds and had a duty to evaluate evidence fairly.” I doubt the evidence for any of these techniques has been considered at all. Or if it has, it has been conveniently ignored. There is none. Dixon claims to have all practitioners “vetted before they take rooms at the practice”. Did that happen? The only vetting these people need is a neutering.

Of course, the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health do not mention such bizarreness in their write up of the practice. In fact they make no criticism of it at all. The reason is no doubt that Dr Michael Dixon is not only a trustee of the Prince’s Foundation but on their management team as their Medical Director.

Alternative Medicine advocates love to accuse their detractors as having vested interests and of being paid by pharmaceutical companies to oppose quackery. This is of course nonsense. I must admit that I find it rather ironic that this article by the Foundation, promoting this surgery, does not feel it necessary to mention the nature of the relationship with one of the partners of the practice and the Foundation’s management.

Dixon accuses his detractors of making him a “target of a campaign to force him out of his NHS Alliance role”. I note, though, that in the FIH article, Dr Dixon rather surprisingly tells us that, ‘I got into the integrated approach for purely selfish reasons.” Now that is a charge I would not dare to make. But by promoting such nonsense to his patients, and by misleading people over the evidence for their effectiveness, and allowing the FIH to promote his practice without declaring an interest, I would think that, at the very least, we are dealing with someone, well, rather graceless.

37 comments for “The Graceless Dr Michael Dixon OBE

  1. zeno
    February 25, 2009 at 12:20 am

    I was going to ‘unbelievable!’, but I seem to be saying that too often here and on other blogs.

    No matter how much I find out about this nonsense, I am still amazed by the antics of AltMeds.

    Unbelievable!

    • AbriPit
      August 26, 2010 at 1:24 pm

      It doesn’t even take ‘alternative medicine’ to heal people, belief will do:

      • AbriPit
        August 26, 2010 at 1:26 pm

        And this:

    • December 22, 2010 at 5:11 am

      I met Dr Michael Dixon at a conference last week and was more than impressed at Dr Dixon’s intelligent and broad-minded approach to healing. We need both allopathic and complimentary practitioners and, in my opinion, an integrated approach is definitely the way forward.

      My congrats to Dr Dixon for his low hospital referral rate, the numbers speak for themselves. Before you go criticising the pioneering efforts of others, I suggest some of you do a bit more research first; you may be surprised to find that ‘weird medicine’ is not so weird after all!! In fact it has been around for a very, very long time!

      If we are truly committed to healing people, then nothing should be ruled out, and surely we should be considering the needs of the patient first and foremost over and above the needs and insecurities of the practitioner.

      People recover quicker when they feel involved in their healing process, and should be encouraged to be proactive. One size doesn’t fit all so there should be a range of different treatments available so people can make informed decisions about what they feel comfortable with, as opposed to what they can afford.

      There is always more than one way and we should celebrate integrating allopathic and complementary medicine as a new and exciting challenge. I fully support Dr Dixon’s campaign for change; it’s positive, economically viable and involves the patient in their own healing process.

      • Badly Shaved Monkey
        December 22, 2010 at 8:23 am

        “If we are truly committed to healing people, then nothing should be ruled out,”

        Joy,

        Should we rule out things that we know don’t work?

      • February 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm

        “complimentary practitioners”
        Unfortunately, they raarely do it for free.

        “If we are truly committed to healing people, then nothing should be ruled out, ”
        Even therapies that are proven to be harlful? That is the logical conclusion if one adheres to that statement.

        “I suggest some of you do a bit more research first;”
        http://whatstheharm.net

  2. Blue Wode
    February 25, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Good to see Michael Dixon being put under the Quackometer’s skeptical microscope. It seems totally hypocritical of him to say that Edzard Ernst should stop lobbing grenades and stop telling the NHS Alliance how to do its job properly, when, in view of the following, Ernst would appear to be completely justified in reminding Dr Dixon that the NHS Alliance has a duty to evaluate evidence fairly:

    Quote:
    “Dr Dixon ended his presentation with some reminiscences about his father, who was a Swordfish pilot during World War ll. These pilots set out to bomb the Bismarck. Visibility was very poor and the waves very high. They set off in a machine that looked like something from World War 1, to attack a ship with the most modern technology in history. He likened CAM practitioners to those Swordfish pilots, making their way through the fog. They have ancient skills, but lack the evidence base that orthodox clinicians think appropriate; the doctors, on the other hand, have the modern technology and the NICE appraisals to back their work up. His father was given orders to return to base and not to proceed. He disobeyed and so succeeded in his task. ‘I’m not advocating mass civil disobedience, but **if you are going to win the game, you have to not always play be the rules of other people. We are going to have to invent our own set of rules** and not accept anything as a given.’ he concluded.”

    See page 5 here:
    http://www.wmin.ac.uk/sih/pdf/1st%20seminar%20report%20-%20CGCAMN.pdf

    As for ‘Frequencies of Brilliance’, it’s quite likely that Dr Dixon would vouch for the technique and defend its theories…
    http://majikthyse.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/michael-dixon-caught-red-handed/

  3. Claire
    February 25, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Well, I’ve learned something new today. Statements like this on the NHS Alliance website had led me to assume that they were an NHS body:

    “The NHS Alliance membership and its hardworking national executive is fully multi-professional. No other NHS body has PCT chief executives and other senior managers, doctors and practice managers, nurses, pharmacists and allied health professionals, along with board chairs and members, all working together to improve the health service…”

    In fact, I can’t see what other interpretation one could put on “no other NHS body” other than it’s part of the NHS.

    Following your link to the College Surgery, I see allergy testing is offered by someone who also offers some rather esoteric treatment –

    “Richard Murphy – 01823 421101
    Hypnotherapy, Bioresonance, Allergy Testing, Skenar, Spinal Touch”

    - raising a red flag in my mind as to what type of testing he is selling.

    • Lindy Williams
      September 29, 2014 at 11:03 am

      I guess the ‘ No other NHS body…’ is highly misleading and maybe should be reported to advertising standards.

      This Alliance, including Dr Dixon as I remember, is pretty enthusiastic about privatisation of the NHS.

  4. Jon
    February 25, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Ah, Michael Dixon, origin of the ‘scientists are pointy-heads and we hates them precious’ school of commentary. [Link]

    That business about NHS Alliance not actually being an NHS body is designed to confuse. Like Derek Draper’s, ‘I never said at studied AT Berkeley, I always said IN Berkeley” – if you have to employ strategies like that…

  5. M Simpson
    February 25, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    The NHS Alliance is one of many organisations involved with – but not part of – the NHS. ‘The NHS’ (which is of course actually four totally unconnected bodies called ‘the NHS’) is seen by the 1.7 people who work for it as an entire industry sector in itself, supporting a huge range of conferences, advisors, consultatative bodies, publications etc.

    An enormous number of people who don’t work for the NHS make their living from it – and the idiots who run the NHS are always happy to pay money out of the NHS rather than keep it in; for example by holding conferences in expensive hotels rather than in hospitals.

    However, there are two things that only genuine NHS organisations can use: that’s the blue NHS logo and the .nhs.uk web suffix.

  6. Dr Aust
    February 25, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    “Richard Murphy – 01823 421101
    Hypnotherapy, Bioresonance, Allergy Testing, Skenar, Spinal Touch”

    - raising a red flag in my mind as to what type of testing he is selling.”

    Fraudulent horse-shit is the technical medical scientific term.

    Hypnotherapy might do something, depending on what it is being used to “treat”, but the others are unmitigated bollocks. And the bioresonance / Scenar is flat-out fraud.

  7. M Simpson
    February 25, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    That, er. should of course have read “1.7 million people” working for the NHS.

  8. Mojo
    February 25, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    I thought maybe the other 1,699,998.3 people were slacking.

  9. Warhelmet
    February 25, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    The joke is Q. “How many people work in the NHS?” A. “About half”.

    @M Simpson – which “idiots” are you referring to? I know plenty of senior NHS managers and none that I would describe as idiots. If you are talking about the DoH…

    I’m not a member of NHS Alliance so I can’t comment on the comtent of their publications, but the dates… Reading the press releases, no real mention of CAM. But I don’t have access, but I can ask someone who does.

    The real question is whether Dixon’s pronouncements have any effect on commisioning. The fact that NHS homeopathy hospitals are experiencing problems as a result of PCTs becoming increasingly reluctant to commision their services suggests not.

  10. Frank
    February 26, 2009 at 10:07 am

    “Typically the middle class, middle aged and middle educated”

    Nice summation, I’ll be stealing that for my own purposes. x

  11. Nash
    February 26, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    re the Swordfish and Bismark

    I think the Swordfish story does show how effective CAM is. It relies on lucky hits which it then trumpets for ever, “we were lucky once, so it must be better.”

    In 1942 the German ships in the Channel Dash shot down all the attacking Swordfish aircraft.

  12. Beermonkey
    February 26, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    “”Typically the middle class, middle aged and middle educated”

    Nice summation, I’ll be stealing that for my own purposes. x”

    My all-time favourite is GROLIES, standing for Guardian Readers Of Limited Intelligence In Ethnic Skirts. Hooray for snobbery!

  13. Le Canard Noir
    February 26, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    “”Typically the middle class, middle aged and middle educated”

    Maybe we can call our Alt Med user Mrs McMame.

  14. Claire
    February 26, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    A Northern GP on the Dixon-Ernst dispute:

    “…I am a GP and I think Prof Ernst raises an utterly valid and critical issue. I am very happy, indeed positively enthusiastic, for him to lob a few grenades. Incidentally, I am not aware that being a general practitioner is a requirement for assessing evidence. Would Dr Dixon apply the same logic to professors of cardiology or rheumatology? And how should we do our job? I wasn’t aware that is was a GP job to pimp glorified market research as evidence. I recently posted about the Northern Ireland CAM ‘Trial’ and I quoted Dr Dixon in brief. …”

  15. Le Canard Noir
    February 26, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I’ve just stumbled across this article written in the Guardian advocating ‘integrated’ medicine in the NHS.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2001/jul/22/health.life

    I did not get too far before I was struck by a particularly disingenuous argument:

    The problem is that few complementary treatments, with one or two notable exceptions, such as St John’s wort, have been proved to be effective using standard scientific methods. The same, though, can be said of many conventional medicines – we still don’t know why aspirin works…

    Note how he is conflating the ideas of if something works, with how something works. Surely, he is clever enough to realise the difference?

  16. John H
    February 27, 2009 at 10:28 am

    It pains me as a lifelong Grauniad reader to see that sort of nonsense in the paper (especially given the identity of their Bad Science correspondent).

    The argument about aspirin is remarkably fatuous.

    Even a medically ignorant earth scientist like me took 30 seconds to establish how aspirin works.

    “””Aspirin . . . . inhibition of the enzyme cyclooxygenase as their mechanism of action”””.

    (Admittedly that was from the Miasmic Herald so it could be total rubbish).

    Am I the only person who thinks that is Ricky Gervais doing a piss-take.

  17. Northern Doctor
    February 27, 2009 at 11:14 am

    The good Dr Dixon OBE in The Telegraph in 2007.

    He [Dr Dixon] is equally unfazed by the most common accusation: that CM only produces a placebo effect.

    “I am not sure how much credibility these pointy-heads have,” snorts Dr Michael Dixon, a trustee of the Prince of Wales’s Foundation for Integrated Medicine and a visiting professor in integrated health at the University of Westminster. The efficacy of complementary treatments, he insists, simply cannot be measured by standard scientific “double-blind” tests in a lab.

    “Sometimes, perhaps, the treatments may be symbolic and just appeal to people’s imaginations,” he says. “In practice, we are pragmatists. If something works, that is fine.”

  18. M Simpson
    February 27, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Warhelmet, I left the NHS last year after three years and I worked with plenty of managers who could reasonably be described as idiots. Away from the patient-facing parts of the NHS there is a vast subculture of unknown, sometimes completely secret NHS organisations staffed by ignorant, greedy, self-opinionated, self-absorbed morons earning huge salaries (and vast quantities of expenses) for endless unreadable reports and self-congratulatory conferences. None of them know the first thing about medicine or patient care and they’re proud of the fact. They consider ‘clinicians’ (ie. doctors) to be a very minor part of the NHS. They’re idiots – and they’re one of the reasons why CAM is taken seriously in the NHS.

  19. Le Canard Noir
    April 10, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Thank you anonymous – it would have been fair to also link to Ernst's original letter so you can see what a complete strawman the above response is that fails to address the central concern.

    http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=20&storycode=4121976&c=3

  20. Sarah
    May 12, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I understand that the comments made by Dr. Dixon were in bad taste but many of you are going on about the lack of evidence in CAM. Actually there are an increasing number of well conducted clinical trials showing effacacy in many areas of health care with many CAM therapies. Also placebo has its place!!!! If we are capable of psychosomatic responses then surely this is to be promoted not condemmed. Psychoneuroimmunology has opened up a great new science into this area. Surely if a patient improves then it is a good thing??? Placebo or not!

    • Lindy Williams
      September 29, 2014 at 11:07 am

      Perhaps you would kindly provide references for the well-conducted clinical trials with both positive and negative results.

  21. Le Canard Noir
    May 12, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Sarah – which CAM therapies do you talk of? The Frequencies of Brilliance technique for example?

    Yes, placebos may well give some limited benefits, but in order to work, the patient needs to believe they are effective. This requires the practitioner either being deluded themselves or lying to the patient. I am not sure either scenario is worth the minor placebo effects that may be gained.

  22. Anonymous
    August 13, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    It seems to me that a lot of the "Black Duck" readers don't have to much understanding of Integrative Medicine and University teams working in this field. That is in fact not the major problem but discussing without real knowledge is something that stopped the evolution allready for centuries. I like people who think, I admire people who know but i detest people who think they know.

    Guy Van Elsacker

    • Mojo
      December 22, 2010 at 11:22 am

      “I like people who think, I admire people who know but i detest people who think they know.”

      How do you feel about people who think they know that treatments work while claiming that they can’t be tested?

  23. November 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    If he’s renting rooms to these quacks in his practice is he not endorsing them implicitly? Does he not have a financial interest in their success, by virtue of renting rooms to them? And if he is recommending, either implicitly or explicitly, to his patients that they see these quacks, is he not conflicted?

    Does anybody fancy asking the GMC to review whether Dr Dixon is putting his own financial interests ahead of his patients’?

  24. July 21, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Sorry to be coming late to this last inquiry, but the answer is surely – “yes”.
    If anybody else is interested – let me know.

    It’s my duty as a doctor to expose fraud where proven.

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