British surgeons should hypnotise patients for some operations, says academic

From The Telegraph Newspaper 7 June 2009

British surgeons should be taught to hypnotise patients to control pain for some operations rather than rely on general anaesthetics, according to a leading American academic.

By Daily Telegraph Reporter Published: 3:15PM BST 07 Jun 2009 Professor David Spiegel, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Stanford University, wants the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) to sanction sweeping changes.

He will tell the Royal Society of Medicine on Monday that Nice should add hypnotherapy to its list of approved therapeutic techniques for the treatment of conditions ranging from allergies and high blood pressure to the pain associated with cancer treatment and bone marrow transplantation. 

 “It is time for hypnosis to work its way into the mainstream of British medicine,” says Professor Spiegel.

“There is solid science behind what sounds like mysticism and we need to get that message across to the bodies that influence this area.

“Hypnosis has no negative side-effects. It makes operations quicker, as the patient is able to talk to the surgeon as the operation proceeds, and it is cheaper than conventional pain relief. Since it does not interfere with the workings of the body, the patient recovers faster, too.

“It is also extremely powerful as a means of pain relief. Hypnosis has been accepted and rejected because people are nervous of it. They think it’s either too powerful or not powerful enough, but, although the public are sceptical, the hardest part of the procedure is getting other doctors to accept it.”

Last year, the Daily Telegraph reported how a pensioner had knee surgery using just hypnosis to control the pain. Trained hypnotist Bernadine Coady, 67, was wide awake for the one-hour operation, which is usually performed under a general anaesthetic.

A spokesman for the National Council for Hypnotherapy said of her case that the technique has been used for centuries for pain relief. He added: “It is used often other countries, for example Belgium, as an alternative to anaesthetics and patients report that it is very successful, that they feel no pain during their operations.” The theory behind medical hypnosis is that the body’s brain and nervous system cannot always distinguish an imagined situation from a real occurrence. As a result the brain can act on any image or verbal suggestion as if it were reality.

Hypnosis puts patients into a state of deep relaxation that is very susceptible to imagery; the more vivid this imagery, the greater the effect on the body. Nice said it would welcome submissions for hypnotherapy to be considered as an approved therapeutic technique on the NHS if it could be cost-effective and consistent delivery could be guaranteed.

But Professor Steve Field, who chairs the Royal College of General Practitioners, said he was sceptical as to whether hypnotherapy could meet these standards. “It is a useful tool used by some GPs and patients for relaxation, but I don’t think it is something that we should support being rolled out to all medical students and all doctors,” he said.

“We can’t call on the NHS to support it without there being a firm medical and economic basis, and I’m not convinced those have been proved to exist.”

Leave a Comment