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The Prince and complementary medicine

The fact that Prince Charles adores complementary medicine is well-known. For some time, it has been suspected that occasionally he gets carried away with his enthusiasm.

The fact that Prince Charles adores complementary medicine is well-known. For some time, it has been suspected that occasionally he gets carried away with his enthusiasm.

An example of this is his repeated attempt to influence UK health policy. On 31 October 2009, the Telegraph reported that:

'the Prince had a spirited exchange with… Andy Burnham, the health secretary, when he received him at Clarence House last week. 'Some forms of complementary medicine are available on the NHS, but the prince is keen that more should now be available," whispers [a] man in Whitehall. "His view is that they often serve to prevent illness and, for that reason, could actually end up saving the NHS money. Andy is open to new ideas, but there is a limit to how far he feels it is prudent to go with this." (1)

The Health Secretary seems prudent indeed. Here are some of the questions he might have asked himself:

• Is it really the Prince's role to lobby politicians?

• What does the evidence show in terms of complementary medicine and illness prevention?

• Is there any evidence that the integration of complementary medicine would save money in the NHS?

I am not an expert on constitutional law and can therefore not answer the first question. As to questions 2 and 3, I can say with some confidence that the evidence is flimsy at best and non-existent at worst.

So, if we lack good evidence, the crucial question I ask myself is - why does Prince Charles not use his considerable influence to lobby for more research to generate the evidence that is so much needed? The strategy of 'integration today and research some other time' seems short-sighted and puts patients at risk.

Professor Edzard Ernst Professor Edzard Ernst

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