On the very same day Prince Charles urges the World Health Assembly in Geneva to back the cause of alternative and complementary medicines alongside scientifically proven treatments, some of UK's eminent doctors are challenging the integration of complementary medicine into the NHS.
Thirteen senior doctors who include some of the most eminent names in British medicine have written to every hospital and primary care trust in the UK urging them not to suggest anything but evidence-based medicine to their patients. This group of Britain's leading doctors have urged every NHS trust to stop paying for alternative medicine and to use the money for conventional treatments.
The Prince, while touring a complementary health unit in Merthyr Tydfil, said that he would ask the WHO to embrace alternative therapies in the fight against serious disease. These views of his have outraged clinicians and researchers, who claim that many of the therapies that he advocates have been shown to be ineffective in trials or have never been properly tested yet.
There has been an ever-increasing concern among practitioners in medical and scientific circles about the increasing referral by GPs to complementary medicine practitioners. Some GPs are noted to use therapies such as acupuncture and homeopathy on their patients; while others are increasingly willing to send them to complementary therapists in cases where they cannot provide treatment.
Among the signatories to the letter were, Sir James Black, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988, Sir Keith Peters, president of the Academy of Medical Science, and, according to the Times, six fellows of the Royal Society. Bob Ward a spokesman for the Royal Society said yesterday that the society had not organised the letter, but acknowledged that the society took a sceptical view. He said "As far as the society is concerned, it has always said that alternative medicine needs to be assessed on the same sort of criteria as conventional medicine but we have not expressed a view about its role within the NHS".
Michael Baum, a cancer specialist who is emeritus professor of surgery at University College London had organised the letter. Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, is another signatory. The doctors urge that the primary care trusts should not spend money on unproven therapies at a time when the NHS is short of cash.
The letter criticises two recent initiatives of the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Medicine, a patient guide to complementary medicine, for which it was given government funds and last year's Smallwood report, which stated that complementary medicine on the NHS was cost-effective. The doctors ask the trust chief executives to review their policies so that patients are given accurate information. They urged them not to waste the already scarce resources on therapies that are yet to be proven in rigorous clinical trials.
They concluded that at a time when the NHS was under intense pressure, patients, the public and the NHS are best served by using the available funds for treatments that are based on solid evidence. Professor Baum said that he would be very happy for the NHS to offer the treatments once research has proven them effective, such as acupuncture for pain relief, but that very few had reached the required standards. He felt that if people want to spend their own money on it, fine, but it shouldn't be NHS money.