This site is intended for health professionals only

Complementary therapies research unit ‘to close after Royal secretary’s complaint’

By Nigel Praities

A controversial academic department looking at the evidence behind the use of complementary therapies is likely to close next year amid a bitter row over its funding.

The complementary medicine department at Peninsula Medical School has been influential in systematically looking at the evidence base for complementary therapies, but is to close in June 2011 unless additional funds of £1.5m can be found.

The Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry says the funding shortfall is due to a ‘difficult' financial climate, but Professor Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary therapies and head of the centre, claims a personal intervention from Prince Charles' private secretary is behind the cash crisis.

The department's methods have not been popular among complementary and alternative medicine enthusiasts and Professor Ernst says the college considered him a ‘persona non grata' after a complaint from Prince Charles' private secretary prompted a 13-month investigation into his centre in 2005.

‘I gave up a post for life in Vienna to come to Exeter, I have refused several offers to join other universities, and I have even donated £75,000 of my private money to my university,' he said.

'I feel that my administration has the moral and perhaps even legal duty to do as they promised.'

A spokesperson from Clarence House confirmed a complaint had been lodged with the university by the Prince's private secretary Sir Michael Peat, but said this was in his capacity as chair of the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health and the Prince of Wales did not know of the letter.

A spokesperson at Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry said they supported Professor Ernst's work, and were working on a business plan to save the centre.

‘Fundraising in this area of research is recognised as difficult, especially in the current financial climate. The college is working with Professor Ernst to establish a business plan to make the best use of the remaining available funding, and it is now likely that the college will be able to support the centre until at least the Spring of 2011,' she said.

But Professor Ernst, who writes a blog on complementary medicine for PulseToday, said this statement was 'a joke'.

'About five years ago, we were officially declared not to be a priority for fundraising. Since then, not a single meeting took place with the university's fundraiser,' he said.

Professor Edzard Ernst