This article was published in Veterinary Times on 28th February 2005 (volume 35, issue 6, pp. 12-13).
Veterinary Times features editor
meets the first veterinary surgeon to take the presidency of the Faculty of Homeopathy (sic), and delves into his past and asks what the future may hold
IT'S taken some 25 years in a distinguished homoeopathic veterinary career for John Saxton to achieve his aim and take office as the president of the Faculty of Homeopathy, based in Luton, Beds.
He shouldn't feel too aggrieved though, because his rise to office is something of a unique celebration - some 160 years after its establishment, he is the first veterinary surgeon to head the organisation.
The faculty itself was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1950 to provide education and training in homoeopathy for legally-regulated healthcare professionals including doctors, veterinary surgeons, dentists, pharmacists and nurses, among others, who integrate homoeopathy into practice.
Mr Saxton graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 1964 at a time when most forms of complementary medicine were still widely viewed as "witchdoctory" and best left to faith healers and charlatans.
"It was virtually unknown," he said, regarding the breadth of knowledge surrounding homoeopathy in the profession. "I came from a purely conventional background. My father was a pharmacist in a small country town and the doctors were family friends.
"I'd no previous exposure to, or even interest in, any of the complementary medicines. When I was training I'd read an article in a newspaper about complementary medicine and I remember thinking 'what a load of rubbish'.
"I was perfectly happy with conventional veterinary medicine and practised it for about 15 years before being introduced to homoeopathy.
"I found that it could not replace conventional medicine, but that it could add another advantageous dimension to my practice. As I've gone on it's taken up more and more of my professional interest."
The young Saxton worked steadily and earnestly, first as a locum in Derbyshire undertaking anything the profession could throw at him, then with a mixed practice in Sheffield which saw him develop from assistant to full partner in five years.
After a brief, but unsatisfactory, spell in London he migrated back to northern climes with the intention of opening a purely small animal practice and - if it weren't for an unfortunate meeting with a bull - it would probably have gone without a hitch.
He explained: "I spent some time setting the practice up, I had a few locums lined up, then I was gored by a bull.
"It didn't actually get its horns into me," he admitted. "But it wrenched every muscle in my thigh and laid me up for weeks. The doctor took great delight in putting 'gored by a bull' on my sick note.
He went on: "It was almost a blessing in disguise because it gave me time to investigate setting up the practice thoroughly. That was in 1970 and I was in single-handed practice there for about five years before I took on my first assistant." The two "worked happily for some years" - Saxton's own words - before the parvo scare of the early 80s provided some unexpected financial influx into the practice with demand for vaccinations.
The practice expanded to a three-person unit, the business grew and the participants one-by-one shipped up and moved out of the premises to make way for things like larger consulting rooms, a dedicated surgical suite and a laboratory.
During the development of the practice, Mr Saxton nurtured his own specialist interest in homoeopathy and the seeds, pun intended, were sown.
"I had become interested in homoeopathy towards the end of the 70s and through the 80s I had done a lot of reading," he said.
"I attended courses at the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital and began using homoeopathy much more regularly in the practice.
"I achieved membership of the Faculty of Homeopathy in 1988 and by this time I was using it to a considerable extent. One of the other practice vets had also become interested in homoeopathy and she got her membership to the faculty."
Their third member stayed quite strictly in the conventional field, while Mr Saxton progressed in the mid-90s into teaching homoeopathy and working mainly in homoeopathic referral with veterinarian Sue Armstrong.
He said: "We developed the practice - which had metamorphosed into the Tower Wood Veterinary Group by this time - so that it had a complementary medicine wing.
"We called it Complementary Animal Therapies and she and I worked in that as well as doing a share of the conventional work, I began to get more and more into the homoeopathic line.
"It wasn't that I'd lost any faith in conventional medicine at all," he stated. "I pulled out of Tower Wood completely in 2003 and since then I've been involved very much in teaching and writing textbooks, with a little bit of referral work,"
It's a theme we come back to again when we talk about his referral work, the part that faith plays in homoeopathy.
"Clients come to me because they want a homoeopathic dimension to their treatment. But quite honestly, the sort of person who wants to pursue a purely homoeopathic approach with no conventional treatment is a bit of a bane," he admitted.
"You get somebody in with a dog or a cat with gingivitis and you take one look at it and say: 'There's nothing I can do without first of all doing some dental work', and the first thing they'll say is: 'Oh no, I can't do that because it'll involve an anaesthetic and that's not homoeopathic'.
"We're not talking about homoeopathic versus conventional medicine here, we're talking about good medicine full stop, it doesn't matter where it comes from."
Mr Saxton is nothing less than practical in recommending homoeopathic remedies to his clients, it seems.
He is a long-serving member of the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (as treasurer, and in a term as president), and it was largely due to the lobbying of the BAHVS that the Faculty of Homeopathy turned its attentions to the veterinary profession as well for training and education.
The numbers of homoeopathic vets in the UK is still small, with Mr Saxton claiming some 130 members for BAHVS, but the numbers are growing and the faculty now commands a 10 per cent membership from the veterinary profession.
While the total number of vets prescribing to complementary medicine may only stand at around one or two per cent of the total, there does exist a great degree of co-operation between the conventional and the alternative.
"We're not interested in proving a point about homoeopathy," said Mr Saxton. "As with any of our professional colleagues, our sole objective is to do the very best we can for all our patients.
"If we think it's not going to work we're not going to go down that path. I've said to people who've come to me at times, for a whole variety of reasons, 'Look, homoeopathy's a dead loss here - don't waste time and money'.
"You've got to play every case according to its merits. You can't allow a belief system to override animal welfare."
Mr Saxton's work as president of the faculty involves knitting together the strands of homoeopathy across a multiplicity of disciplines, co-ordinating educational and training content and promoting homoeopathy at home and abroad.
With this in mind, he was flying to Australia the day after our interview to examine graduates finishing a three-year course and teach newer candidates. His professional plate has never been fuller, he admitted.
"The brief of the president, irrespective of the individual profession, is to promote and expand the use of homoeopathy within the medical disciplines, whether they be animal or human, because we believe that homoeopathy has an awful lot to offer on a broad front.
"What we believe in is not a 'takeover' by homoeopathy for medicine, it's more a case of 'here's another discipline which has its place along side the conventional approach'."
He added: "We believe it can help in a lot of conditions where the conventional approach has its limitations."
The evidence-base for homoeopathy is continually growing, Mr Saxton was quick to explain, but the most important project being undertaken for the faculty so far is a joint human/animal clinical audit, which could expand the scientific basis for homoeopathy even further.
"The Faculty of Homeopathy is doing a project involving clinical audit for doctors, veterinarians and dentists three separate audits.
"It's in its fairly early stages so any significant results won't be available for a while yet.
"The work that's come out of this in the human field has been very positive for homoeopathy," he added enthusiastically. "There are the usual sort of discussions - a lot of them very valid - over the quality of the research, but the same criteria here apply to conventional research as well.
"When you look at the sort of meta-analysis that's been done, the overall conclusion has to be that the quality of homoeopathic research is as good as conventional research."
For some, that's going to be worth investigating, but for others, it may never be enough to merit attention.
ACCORDING to its website, the Faculty of Homeopathy promotes the academic and scientific development of homoeopathy and ensures high standards in its education and practice by statutorily registered healthcare professionals. The faculty has more than 1,400 members throughout the world. Postgraduate courses are taught at six locations in the UK and five overseas. Students are encouraged to sit specialist examinations which lead to faculty qualifications. The Faculty also publishes Homeopathy (formerly the British Homoeopathic Journal), is an active member of the international homoeopathic community and a founder member of the European Committee for Homoeopathy, which has developed a European code of professional conduct and agreed standards of training in homoeopathic medicine in the European Union.
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