Prince of Wales calls for alternative medicine to be treated fairly and for regulation to govern its use.
The Prince of Wales is pushing for an acceptance of complementary medicines and urging medical watchdogs to regulate their professions in order to better protect patients.
Two years ago the Coalition pledged to bring in an official register of practitioners of herbal and Chinese medicines, which would see therapists regulated alongside other health care workers. It followed two public consultations which found overwhelming support for the proposals. But ministers have blocked the proposals, instead setting up a new committee – which has just secretly drawn up plans to spend a further 18 months re-examining the matter.
Prince Charles is said to be increasingly frustrated about “delay tactics” which mean that the proposals may not be published until next year and then would be highly likely to be cast aside again as an election looms. Well-placed sources said that the Prince was passionate about integrated health policies and the proper regulation of complementary as well as mainstream medicines. He is understood to have raised his concerns with Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, during a meeting at Clarence House.
A source said that the Prince wanted to see “evidence-based complementary treatments taking a proper integrated approach that gives people choice and where regulation would build confidence in making choices”. Senior figures in complementary medicine said the safety of the public was being compromised by a reluctance of ministers to tackle the controversial issue and set standards to weed out rogue practitioners.
Dr Michael Dixon, the chairman of the College of Medicine, which advocates an “integrated” approach to medicine – so that complementary therapies such as homoeopathy, acupuncture and herbal remedies are evaluated alongside mainstream medicine – said: “The Prince of Wales has consistently pushed for stricter controls over complementary medicines so that the public has a real choice about treatment, and is properly protected.”
Dr Dixon, a GP, who previously worked as medical director on a health charity set up by Prince Charles, said: “We need to introduce regulation in order to protect the public and also to make sure that good practitioners don’t get tainted by the bad apples out there.” Under Labour, there were two public consultations – in 2004 and 2009 – which found high levels of public support for regulation of those practising herbal and Chinese medicines.
In 2011 Andrew Lansley, the health secretary at the time, pledged to introduce a register, which would see therapists regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council, alongside 16 other types of health-care professionals, such as physiotherapists, speech therapists and dietitians. Plans were drawn up to bring in regulation by the end of 2012.
Last month, however, Dr Dan Poulter, the health minister, wrote to senior figures in the industry, inviting them to become part of an independent Herbal Practitioners and Medicines Working Group “with the aim of reviewing, advising and making recommendations to government on the way forward in this complex area”. Draft terms of reference, seen by The Telegraph, set out a timetable for discussions – with a final report not scheduled until March 2015, meaning any recommendations would almost certainly be put aside in the run-up to an election.
Michael McIntyre, the chairman of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association – one of those invited to join the committee – said that he was “deeply concerned” by the apparent delay tactics. He told The Sunday Telegraph: “In February 2011 Andrew Lansley agreed that these plans would go ahead. Since then there has been nothing, until now, and the setting up of yet another committee about it, starting all over again.”
In an article published last month by a health-care journal, Mr McIntyre wrote: “For over 30 years, the Prince of Wales has been a tireless advocate of such an integrated health approach not just in the interests of patient choice but also because it created a powerful focus on the prevention of ill health.” He said the Prince had “consistently urged politicians and health-care professionals to progress as fast as possible with the regulation of herbal medicine practitioners to safeguard the public.”
Mr McIntyre raised his concerns about the delays with ministers last month. In a letter to Dr Poulter, he wrote: “This invitation and its terms of reference add to widespread concern that the Government is going back on its public promise of February 2011 to bring in statutory regulation of UK herbal practitioners – a view borne out by the protracted timetable set for this work.”
A spokesman for the Department for Health said that its officials had been working with the UK’s devolved administrations since 2011 in order to determine how best to “balance public protection with consumer choice” in herbal medicine and had set up the working group because the issues involved were complex.