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Wednesday, May 27, 1998 Published at 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK

Health: Latest News

Charles champions complementary medicine

Prince Charles wants orthodox and complementary medicine to work together

Princes Charles calls for closer ties between conventional and alternative medicine
The Prince of Wales has called for mainstream medicine to forge a closer relationship with complementary therapies.

The Prince made the call when opening a conference in London on Thursday on how best to boost the standing of complementary medicines such as acupuncture, osteopathy and homoeopathy.

Open minded evaluation

Prince Charles told delegates: "One of the most important reasons for this initiative is to make the quality of health care for everyone in this country even better by harnessing all the medical knowledge and skills available to us - not only from orthodox medicine, which has achieved wonders in the last hundred years, but also from other traditions.

BBC Radio's Today programme debates alternative medicine
"We need to commit ourselves to a vigorous but open minded evaluation of practice is all aspects of health care and find ways of translating ideas into action in the most effective manner.

"I hope that we shall see an increase in research not only into the effectiveness and safety of complementary and alternative therapies and how to improve their effectiveness, but also into what people want from their health care and why they turn in particular to less conventional care."

'Enormously encouraged'

The Prince also called for more progress towards self regulation in complementary medicine so that the public can be confident that they are getting expert care.

Having campaigned on behalf of complementary medicine since the early 1980s, the Prince said he was "enormously encouraged" at the progress that had been made.

"When we embarked on this voyage I did not expect to find so great a measure of support for the objectives, or so great a willingness on the part of both orthodox and complementary organisations and individuals to talk openly to one another and to thin the unthinkable."

The Royal Family has used homeopathic medicines for many years and their doctors are also trained in alternative techniques like acupuncture and osteopathy.

At the conference, experts from all fields of medicine discussed proposals for how a more integrated approach to healthcare can be adopted.

Better training

As well as research into safety and effectiveness and plans for proper regulation, there was also a call for changes in the curriculum of medical and nursing students to ensure that they are at least familiar with complementary medicine.

[ image: Acupuncture is one of the most well known alternative medicines]
Acupuncture is one of the most well known alternative medicines
Complementary medicine is big business. The market is doubling in size every four years and there are more than 140 professional bodies offering alternative remedies.

Surveys have shown that 25% of patients have tried complementary medicine and 20% of GPs have asked for some kind of training in them.

But despite the fact that a growing number of senior medical doctors who were once hostile to alternative therapies are now accepting them - there are still problems.

Lack of regulation

While there are many respectable and qualified alternative practitioners, there are also charlatans, and a lack of regulation means that patients may have trouble distinguishing between the two.

Dr Fleur Fisher, who headed a team of experts set up at the suggestion of the Prince to look at how medical education could be reformed, said: "Medicine is not an exact science, there are lots of things we do not understand. We do not understand the mechanisms of many diseases, and lots of discoveries of treatment have happened by chance. We need to open our minds to what each us, the disciplines, has to offer the other for the care of patients."

"This conference is a real watershed. Prince Charles has made really quite a brave move, he has acted as catalyst. We need to learn how to look at both the toxicity and the effeciency of the treatments we use in both complementary and orthodox medicine so we can understand better how we can help patients."

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