Reiki is practiced in an NHS breast cancer ward


Reiki treatment involves no physical contact

In the foothills of Mount Kurama a man meditates. He has been there for 21 days. Suddenly, he has a revelation.

From this quiet beginning in 1922 the practice of reiki was born. Since then, it has evolved and found itself keeping company with treatments such as homeopathy and acupuncture in modern complementary medicine. The practice of reiki involves the practitioner transferring healing energy, or ‘ki’, to the subject through their palms. Those who support the treatments claim that this can help a wide range of conditions, including depression and anxiety as well as improving immunity. Contrary to these claims, reiki and other complementary medicines have been widely studied and the scientific consensus is that they have minimal, if any, clinical benefits. Despite this, reiki and its allied medicines are, shockingly, still afforded a place in the medical treatment establishment.

This acceptance of alternative medicine can be seen specifically at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, Essex, where they employ a “Reiki Therapist/Spiritual Healer”  in a breast cancer ward. The position is funded by an alternative medicine charity, but its location within an NHS hospital has drawn criticism. Professor Edzard Ernst, the world’s first, and only, professor of complementary medicine said, “We have published a systematic review of reiki…the evidence is simply not there. There are a number of studies, they are flimsy and the ones that are rigorous don’t generate a positive result. In my book the evidence is even negative,” he added.

The way in which this post has been advertised raises some serious questions about the medical validity of the job. The criteria state that the practitioner must “demonstrate the benefit and activity of the post”. Philippa Dooher, Lead Breast Care Specialist Nurse and supervisor of the position, outlined how this is judged: “Before and after treatment the practitioner engages in a core evaluation of how the patient is feeling. There is also the option for patient feedback.”   Considering the analysis of medical benefits of the treatment, she admitted that the success of the post is “not based on the effect on prognosis”. This stance is problematic according to Professor Ernst who described the attempts to justify the job as “ridiculously funny”.

Thankfully, it appears that this practice is not common in the NHS. Professor Ernst commented that the post seemed “exceptional”. But, he went on to add that outside of the National Health Service “…the use of alternative medicine in Britain is fairly widespread. About 20% of the general population use these treatments; with cancer patients the percentage is much higher.”   Dooher agreed with this, saying that the only alternative practitioners in the hospital were the reiki therapist, and a reflexologist on the same breast cancer ward.

The role in the hospital has been occupied for a year. The way through which patients are recruited to the scheme is another interesting addition to this tale. As well as being given forms to apply for treatment, the patients are approached in the waiting room and offered reiki by the practitioner themselves.

It seems highly illogical that an institution that should make decisions based on evidence and critical observation offers this therapy on an oncology ward. This is a view also expressed by Professor Ernst, who said that it is “Truly, truly embarrassing that an NHS trust should advertise for a reiki healer … [the position] discloses a total lack of critical regard to what they are doing, and I think it’s ridiculous, dangerous, and undermines everything that evidence based medicine and rationality stands for.”

Whilst the creation of reiki in the mountainous regions of Japan may be a nice story, it is disconcerting that almost one hundred years later “spiritual healing energy” can still be found within the NHS. 


This article was inspired by a job advertisement posted by the PAH Trust, upon discussion it was revealed that the post had been filled for a year and since my conversation with the hospital the advertisement has been removed from their website.

Lee MS, Pittler MH, & Ernst E (2008). Effects of reiki in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. International journal of clinical practice, 62 (6), 947-54 PMID: 18410352


7 thoughts on “Reiki is practiced in an NHS breast cancer ward

  1. Pingback: Reiki is practiced in an NHS breast cancer ward « B Good Science Blog

  2. Thought provoking article.
    * Reiki was born in 1922 when USUI Mikao Sensei, founder of Usui Reiki Ryoho (Healing Art) attained enlightenment while he was fasting and meditating at Mt. Kurama.

    * Each one has an innate ability to heal oneself. Reiki is simple and easy to learn. Children can learn Reiki. Reiki is one of the many healing modalities that one can learn to heal oneself.

    * Reiki is part of CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) in the US. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of CAM use by Americans, more than 1.2 million adults had used an energy healing therapy, such as Reiki, in the previous year. The survey also found that approximately 161,000 children had used an energy healing therapy in the previous year.

    Few comments:
    * Photo-nice photo but quite misleading.
    -Clients are ALWAYS fully clothed in a Reiki healing session.

    * Reiki involves no physical contact
    – Reiki practitioners place their hands lightly on or just above the person receiving treatment, with the goal of facilitating the person’s own healing response.

    * Reiki is based on the idea that there is a universal (or source) energy that supports the body’s innate healing abilities. Practitioners seek to access this energy, allowing it to flow to the body and facilitate healing.

    * Reiki is generally practiced as a form of self-care. Reiki can be received from someone else and may be offered in a variety of health care settings, including medical offices, hospitals, hospices and clinics. It can be practiced on its own or along with other CAM therapies or conventional medical treatments.

    • Thanks for your comment, having had a look at your website and seeing your experience in Reiki I will concede that your points on the image and the degree of touching involved in reiki therapy may well be correct.

      However, I maintain the assertion that offering reiki to breat cancer patients is dangerous. To offer this sort of pseudoscience to such a vulnerable group is at both morally and scientifically wrong.

      The idea of “universal energy” is, to be frank, ridiculous. Yes the body does have innate healing abilities, aka the immune system, but the idea that through proximity or light touching the immune system can be affected is laughable.

      • I’m a strong advocate of “Be an Informed Consumer”.

        * Complementary- refers to use of CAM TOGETHER WITH conventional medicine. Most use of CAM by Americans is complementary

        * Alternative-refers to use of CAM IN PLACE OF conventional medicine

        *Integrative Medicine-also called “integrated medicine” refers to a practice that combines both conventional and CAM treatments for which there is evidence of safety and effectiveness

        Your Comment:
        “To offer this sort of pseudoscience to such a vulnerable group is at both morally and scientifically wrong.”

        My Reply:
        Reiki is part of CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) in the US. Some CAM practices involve manipulation of various energy fields to affect health.
        VERITABLE: measurable. This involves electromagnetic fields (magnet therapy and light therapy).
        PUTATIVE (Biofields) yet to be measured. Examples are Reiki, Qigong and healing touch.

        Check this out
        Reiki Therapy Video
        Reiki Therapy: Integrative Care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital(A Teaching Affiliate of Harvard Medical School)

        The Department of Nursing’s Integrative Care Reiki Volunteer Program, these patients—and their families—have a way to relax. Since its inception in 2009, the program has provided 6,500 20-minute sessions in 30 units of the hospital including oncology, cardiology, medical surgical and neurology.

        Energy healing on CNN International

        Mind- Body- Spirit Medicine

        Your comment:
        the idea that through proximity or light touching the immune system can be affected is laughable…”

        My Reply:
        Be mindful of the words that you use-one day you might eat them. WORDS are very powerful, words can inspire, motivate, empower etc, but WORDS used in the wrong context are SWORD that can hurt someone you love.

        For someone who is very sick and terminally ill, curing may not be possible, however, HEALING is always a possibility.

        Be happy and healthy.

  3. OK, I’m a bit off topic here. Or maybe not that much. i read this article on breast cancer and my train of thoughts led me to plastic surgeries. I guess modern medicine with miracles of plastic surgery can be really helpful in such cases. Unfortunately “plastic industry medicine” is in many (or sadly even in most) cases used for the wrong reasons. Search for eternal youth is still on, but I somehow doubt that plastic surgeries have anything with it. I mean – do 65 years old plasticized women really look young and sexy? I don’t think so! Are those firm boobs on 56 year old with 5 children normal? Of course they are not!
    I searched a bit through the internet and I found this interesting website talking right about plastic surgeries gone wrong:

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