Health: A house full of healthy options

Should you try Reiki, or Shiatsu, or stick to antibiotics? A new, integrated clinic helps you decide.
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The Independent Culture
Doctor Valerie Dias, a general Practitioner, used to be sceptical about complementary medicine. It was only when she kept hearing from her patients about how alternative treatments had worked wonders where she had failed, that she yielded.

Over the years she has "metamorphosed" into a doctor who believes wholeheartedly in the merits of both orthodox and non-orthodox medicine - and most important, the fusion of the two. Her approach may be unusual, one for which she is sometimes ridiculed by fellow doctors, but it is not unique. Naturally, she has gravitated towards like-minded GPs and a group of them have recently joined forces to create a new institution.

Two previously antagonistic world views have been joined seamlessly together at the Integrated Medical Centre (IMC), which has just opened in central London. Conventional medicine, informed as it is by western scientific thought, has never before been found to be snuggled up so closely to holistic medicine, rooted as it is in a pre-scientific paradigm.

The IMC, housed in a homely four-storey building just behind Harley Street, is jam-packed with patients who have drawn a blank with their GPs. Some of them may have toyed with the idea of complementary medicine in the past, but felt baffled by the range of alternatives.

"What's unique about the IMC is that the patient doesn't need to go roaming around thinking `Is this the right person? Will this help? Will that help? Shall I try homoeopathy? How about Ayurvedic healing or Shiatsu massage or hypnotherapy? What is Reiki? Which one is going to help my condition?' " said Dr Dias. "You don't have to worry about which door to knock on when you come here, but also if you come in for a headache and it is a brain tumour we would pick that up. Equally, if you clearly have a full- blown bacterial infection and a mega dose of antibiotics is what's needed, we'll tell you. Because we are doctors, we don't have the leeway not to give you those antibiotics." The joy, as far as the doctors at IMC are concerned, is the ability to cross-refer in-house. There are a total of 21 staff, half of whom are highly qualified and experienced medical doctors who are also experts in complementary and traditional medicine. The other half are hand-picked specialists in their field, be that naturopathy, cranial osteopathy, traditional Chinese medicine or sports injury management, who are supervised by the medical doctors.

"There are so many conditions for which in medicine we'd say, `you've got to live with it,' " said Dr Dias. "But because we've got so many strings to our bow, we're not so cornered."

The IMC is the brainchild of Dr Mosaraf Ali, a 45-year-old Indian doctor who arrived in Britain seven years ago and has since been adopted as a health guru by the Prince of Wales. He is nicknamed Rasputin in St James's Palace, a light-hearted reference to his having trained in Russia. On the recommendation of Prince Charles, Dr Ali has seen other members of the British Royal Family, including the Duchess of Kent, whom he has treated for her ME. In May 1991, Dr Ali joined the Hale Clinic , the alternative medicine centre in Regent's Park, where he earned a reputation for giving "the best massage in London". He makes his diagnosis by using the ancient method of looking at the tongue, pulse, ears and eyes. Patients claim he has "healing hands". Indeed, Dr Ali hates seeing patients reduced to pathologies, advocating an holistic approach for "people, not illnesses".

"The concept is ancient, very ancient," he said with a calmness that comes with conviction. "Most diseases are multi-factorial, unless it was a trauma. If the weather is bad, you don't say `oh, it's El Nino'. Similarly, whether it's chronic fatigue or a pain in the knee joint, there are various factors which cause it."

Dr Ali's approach certainly did the trick for Susan. She first went to him six months ago, after losing patience with her GP who spent more time reading his computer screen than looking at her face. She was depressed, overweight, and not sleeping. Her marriage had ended and she had a difficult legal battle to fight in America. A car accident had left her in constant pain, unable even to lift her arm, and she was finding work "exhausting and vile".

"The first thing I remember about Dr Ali is that when I said, `I'm terribly depressed,' he said, `I can see that'. I was glad he could see. It is visible in people. He told me that unless I ate what he told me to eat and was going to look after myself, I needn't come back for treatment."

Dr Ali told her to cut out caffeine, cheese, vinegar and leavened bread. He "did some treatment", which amounted to a couple of massages to improve the blood flow to the head, and referred her to the centre's yoga teacher, whom she saw once a month. And that, apparently, was the sum of it.

Now Susan is buoyant, free of pain, and has lost more than two stone without trying.

Dr Ali has a 20 per cent rule. He explained: "In any healing, you help the person to get 20 per cent better. The moment they feel 20 per cent better, their whole body wants to get 100 per cent better. Suddenly some unusual mechanisms get switched on and the body begins to heal itself ... what we are trying to do is transform a person."

Dr Ali has vast experience of integrating various forms of medicine and claims to know which therapy will work in a particular instance. "Say, for example, it's a problem of rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic problem, aromatherapy may or may not help, homoeopathy may or may not work, but Ayurvedic treatment is known to give better results. We know that eczema responds to diet and herbs, we know that strokes can be treated with acupuncture."

A half-hour consultation with Dr Ali costs between pounds 40 and pounds 50, further appointments, plus sessions with recommended therapists, are charged at the same rate. Private insurance companies are increasingly recognising alternative treatments, but Dr Ali would like to see services such as his available on the NHS. "Insurance companies find us very lucrative because we offer so much for so little. Patient participation cuts the cost so much."

The mood at the IMC is one of confident expectation. "This is the future of medicine," said Dr Ali. "This is how it's going to be. There's no going back."

For enquiries: Integrated Medical Centre, 43 New Cavendish Street, London W1M 7RG. Telephone: 0171 224 5111. Fax: 0171 224 3114