Is there an alternative to alternative medicine?

Dr. Richard Rawlins MB BS MBA FRCS

Tuesday, November 12 2013 at 7:30PM

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38 Westgate Street
(Used to be 'the Rat & Parrot')

Dr. Richard Rawlins MB BS MBA FRCS

What's the talk about?

Since time immemorial we humans have been concerned about our health and well-being. For early civilisations it seemed obvious that the gods, spirits and stars were the cause of illness and disease. The Age of Enlightenment ushered in more critical analysis and we now expect medicine and healthcare to be evidence-based. Yet a third of the UK population indulges in alternatives to evidence-based medicine and at least £500 million is spent every year on implausible treatments. There is no satisfactory way of differentiating between a sincere practitioner of complementary or alternative medicine, a dissembling quack, and an out and out fraudster.

Just why do so many patients spend so much time and trouble on alternatives to science based care? Why do many doctors refer their patients for metaphysical medicine? Why are politicians content to allow taxpayers funds to be spent on treatments that have no evidence of effectiveness? Is there an alternative?

In this presentation Richard Rawlins reviews how conventional, orthodox, mainstream medicine has evolved from esoteric, hermetic, and arcane origins - has passed through a stage of thaumaturgic medicine - and now provides the best possible care in the light of current knowledge and understanding. There are many problems with orthodox medicine, but the scientific method and the attention of sceptics, in pubs and elsewhere, keeps healthcare professionals on the straight and narrow of intellectual and professional integrity. Richard brings the insights and perspectives of a magician to this challenging consideration of contemporary caring professions.


Richard qualified as a doctor in 1968, was a lecturer in Anatomy at King's College London, a ship's surgeon on cruise ships around the world, and on warships as a Surgeon Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve. After further training in London he was appointed Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Bedford Hospital. He has represented his colleagues throughout his career; spending three years as Chairman of the UK Consultants Conference. In 2006 he retired to Kingswear on the River Dart where he bases his private practice. He is an expert medical witness to the Courts and to the General Medical Council. He has been active in developing BMA policy towards alternative medicine and in particular pressing for the NHS to cease purchasing homoeopathic remedies unless and until NICE reports on their cost effectiveness.

As a member of The Magic Circle, and Riviera Circle of Magicians Mentalist of the Year 2010, Richard has particular experience of illusion, deceit and deception. Magicians are honest - they say they are going to fool you, and then they do! Richard expects healthcare professionals to be honest and admit what they are up to, and his forthcoming book Placedo - the Way of the Placebo - will reveal all.