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Thursday, May 28, 1998 Published at 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK

Health: Latest News

'Open-minded' healthcare

"It is about reaching across the disciplines."

The Prince of Wales has urged mainstream medicine to forge a closer relationship with complementary therapies. Prince Charles made his call in a speech to the Integrated Healthcare Conference in London on Thursday. The conference is looking at how the standing of complementary medicines - such as acupuncture, osteopathy and homoeopathy - can be improved. This is the full text of his speech:

The Discussion Document that provides the agenda for our conference today was launched last October at the inauguration of a series of annual President's Lectures sponsored by the King's Fund, of which Dr Robert Maxwell was then Chief Executive. So I am particularly glad to see him here today, chairing our proceedings. May I also welcome all of you? Thank you for coming. I understand that even more people would have liked to come but there is a strict limit to the numbers we could accommodate in this afternoon's discussion groups.

Can I also thank the Maurice Laing Foundation, whose financial support has helped to make it all possible. When I cast my mind back 14 years to the reaction that greeted my speech on the occasion of the BMA's 150th anniversary, it is encouraging that things have moved along the road enough to allow a conference like this to take place at all.

Quality of healthcare

One of the most important reasons for this initiative is to make the quality of healthcare for everyone in this country even better by harnessing all the medical knowledge and skills available to us - not only from orthodox western medicine, which has achieved wonders in the last 100 years - but also from other traditions.

This is not a wholly revolutionary proposal. Some branches of orthodox medicine were themselves once novel and outside the medical establishment. Even surgeons, now members of a number of prestigious Royal Colleges, began as mere barbers.

So a central theme of the initiative is to encourage a dialogue among the different branches and traditions of healthcare and to develop a closer, more effective relationship. This isn't a question of orthodox medicine taking over, or of complementary and alternative medicine diluting the intellectual rigour of orthodoxy.

It is about reaching across the disciplines to help and to learn from one another for the ultimate benefit of the patients you all serve. As the discussion document puts it at the end of the Introduction, "CAM practitioners, teachers and researchers need to understand the advantages of more systematic audit and rigorous research; while orthodox practitioners and researchers need to understand the benefits of an approach that places more emphasis on the personal contribution individuals can make to their own well-being, rather than reliance on surgery or drugs."

Continued dialogue

This Conference is a part of that dialogue. This morning we shall hear from a number of speakers with different medical and healthcare backgrounds. This afternoon you will have the opportunity to join in the debate in the discussion groups. I shall much look forward to hearing your conclusions.

But the Conference is not the end of the process. We need to continue the dialogue over the next months and years. We need to commit ourselves to a rigorous, but open-minded evaluation of practice in all aspects of healthcare: and to 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 healthcare and why they turn in particular to less conventional care. Discussions on how to carry out and fund such research are already well advanced.

Professional education

Earlier this year, as part of the initiative, there was a seminar of leading people involved in the education of doctors, nurses and other mainstream healthcare professionals to discuss the place of complementary medicine in their courses.

I am told that there was a very helpful and positive discussion. More and more medical schools and universities are providing some familiarisation in complementary medicine, so I am confident that we shall see a continuation of this trend and the development of multi-disciplinary courses.

Another seminar, organised in collaboration with the NHS Confederation, looked at different models of delivering integrated care, their effectiveness in improving clinical outcomes and the need for further research and audit. I understand that there are proposals for further research on the best way of delivering integrated care which may help to influence the place of complementary and alternative therapies within the re-organised NHS.


I hope, too, that the various bodies representing the complementary and alternative therapies and professions will continue the moves towards self-regulation on which they have embarked, and that help can be provided to support them in this effort. The osteopaths and chiropractors have now achieved statutory regulation and good progress in voluntary self-regulation is being made by the acupuncture and homeopathy professions and others.

Action on all these matters is not mainly for me or for the members of the Steering Committee and Working Groups whose efforts and devotion produced the Discussion Document. They will continue to be involved and I should like, again, to express my thanks both to them and to The Foundation for Integrated Medicine which has supported and organised the initiative throughout.

The Foundation will continue to perform this role; to encourage the dialogue; to facilitate new developments; and in some cases to give practical and financial help. As President of the Foundation, I shall certainly continue to give my support and encouragement.

But the way ahead is mainly in the hands of the professions themselves, both orthodox and complementary; the bodies who carry out and fund research; who educate and train practitioners; and for all those providing healthcare both within and outside the NHS. I hope therefore that all of you here today will consider what contribution you and your organisation can make.

Encouraging responses

Earlier this year I wrote to several of the organisations represented here today, putting that very question. Already there have been a large number of responses - most of them very encouraging - some of them perhaps surprisingly so. I would like to thank all of you for the considerable thought that has clearly gone into the replies.

Some of you, I know, are still considering what view you should take and I look forward to hearing your response in due course. Can I perhaps say that I do not expect you all to have cut and dried answers. Many of you may need more time to think about it. You may - as for example the Royal College of Physicians has done - want to appoint a group within your organisation to look thoroughly into the implications.

Some of you may have reservations about some of the proposals - or even misgivings. I hope that you will not feel inhibited in any way from voicing them or of sending interim replies to the Foundation for Integrated Medicine. Later this year, there will be a further gathering specifically for complementary and alternative practitioners, at which I hope it will be possible for even more of you to be represented.

Think the unthinkable'

I am enormously encouraged by the progress so far. 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 think the unthinkable.

I encourage you to continue that process in your deliberations this afternoon. And I warn you that I shall be back at 4 o'clock to hear how you have got on!

I would like to leave you for now with what I think is a rather appropriate Medical Litany composed by Sir Robert Hutchinson earlier this century:

"From inability to leave well alone;
From too much zeal for what is new and contempt for what is old;
From putting knowledge before wisdom,
science before art, cleverness before common sense;
From treating patients as cases;
From making the cure of a disease more grievous than its endurance;
Good Lord, deliver us."

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