New proposed guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England (PHE) recommend that honey and over-the-counter medicines should be the first line of treatment for most people with coughs.
A hot drink with honey, often with lemon and ginger as well, is a well-known home remedy for coughs and a sore throat. Patients are now being advised to use such treatments and wait for symptoms to improve on their own before going to see their GP.
This is not news for anyone who has used complementary therapies and natural remedies. Thousands of people self-treat and use less invasive, safer and effective natural treatments before seeing their GP. These guidelines need to go further and look at how complementary and natural therapies and remedies should be a first line of treatment in a range of circumstances, especially where conventional medicine has limited success.
However, these guidelines could be a useful start if they help us move away from the prescriptive mentality of conventional medicine towards a more holistic model which encourages appropriate self-care and facilitates the body to heal itself.
Health officials say that antibiotics should rarely be prescribed by doctors for coughs because in most cases they do little to improve symptoms, and the new recommendations for doctors are intended to help tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance. Most coughs are caused by viruses, which cannot be treated by antibiotics and will clear up on their own. The draft recommendations are part of a raft of new antibiotic prescribing guidelines being developed jointly by PHE and NICE.
Complementary and natural therapies could play an important role in easing the burden on an overstretched NHS. Policy makers need to be bolder. If honey is recommended for coughs, why not other natural remedies for other conditions?
The consultation on the new guidelines closes on 20th September. Anyone wishing to make a submission can do so on the NICE website (www.nice.org.uk).