The ongoing conflict between orthodox medicine and the proponents of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) spilled onto the letters pages of the Times recently. An open letter from leading doctors, including Professor Ernst and Nobel Prize winner Sir Black, criticised the NHS'seeping acceptance of CAM. It urged those holding influential positions to review local practices and lobby the Department of Health on the matter: '…patients, the public and the NHS are best served by using the available funds for treatments that are based on solid evidence'. They also criticised the Smallwood report, commissioned by the Prince of Wales, which suggested that more NHS-provided CAM might lead to widespread benefits.
This gloves-off approach came just as Prince Charles was speaking at the World Health Organisation, promoting his fervent belief that CAM therapies are the answer to our medical prayers: 'I believe that the proper mix of proven complementary, traditional and modern remedies…can help to create a powerful healing force for our world…orthodox practice can learn from complementary medicine, the West can learn from the East and new from old traditions'. This may be an admirable aim but the standards of proof deemed acceptable by CAM advocates appear far woollier than the rigorous standards demanded of orthodox medical trials.
Prince Charles' alternative medical hobbyhorse is more than 20 years old but he comes from a long line of ancestral CAM enthusiasts, right back to Queen Victoria's grandfather. His view of orthodox doctors as small-minded and petty for refusing to admit CAM into the NHS fold is well known. But despite this, and to his own amazement, the BMA actually elected him president for its 150th anniversary year; he used his tenure well, making both friends in high medical places and digs at doctors' reluctance over CAM in several speeches. And in 1997 he established the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health to encourage CAM's integration into modern healthcare.
As Christian doctors, we no doubt agree with the spirit of the Prince's vision: 'integrated healthcare – the best of all healthcare for the whole person'. But whether or not CAM can realise this vision is where we will continue to disagree. True whole person medicine needs to be properly evidence-based.