NHS scornful of Charles on alternative medicines

National Health Service managers yesterday dismissed calls by Prince Charles for more complementary medicines to be made freely available on the NHS, saying most of them did not work.

Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, the umbrella body for managers, said the NHS could use only those medicines that had been proven effective, ruling out the majority of complementary therapies.

"The NHS will use anything that evidential research shows works," Dr Morgan said yesterday. "So there are things like acupuncture that are now routine in all sorts of fields. But for the vast majority of alternative medicines there is no evidence, or negative evidence, that they work."

Dr Morgan's comments will act as a direct rebuke to Prince Charles's demands that more complementary medicines should be available on the NHS. Prince Charles, writing in The Guardian yesterday, said: "In many of the countries I have visited it is clear that more traditional or 'natural' approaches are helpful. Clinical trials of acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine and controlled breathing have shown benefit in asthma treatment."

Prince Charles is convinced the use of homeopathy would be useful in combating a huge rise in allergies in the Western world. But Dr Morgan said yesterday: "When there are so many things the NHS can do with the money it has, it would be inappropriate to divert money from things that work to things that don't work. If there is evidence that a certain technique is effective, then the NHS will consider how to use it.

"It is not that we are closed-minded. If something is proved to be effective, we will embrace it. The aim of the NHS is to use the best and most effective treatments."

Apart from acupuncture, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, the body which advises the NHS on best treatments, has given a cautious green light to reflexology and t'ai chi to ease the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. The Royal Homeopathic Hospital in London has been part of the NHS since its foundation in 1948.

It is not the first time the Prince has put forward his beliefs about complementary medicines. Last year, he suggested alternative therapies as a treatment for obesity, and five years ago he set up his Foundation for Integrated Health to promote greater co-operation between practitioners of complementary and orthodox medicines.

The Queen is also believed to be a fan of complementary medicine. The new royal physician, Dr Timothy Evans, who was appointed last week, runs a clinic promoting reflexology, aromatherapy and Chinese herbal medicine.

With surveys showing 75 per cent of people wanting complementary medicines on the NHS and spending on herbal remedies running at about £126m a year, Prince Charles's call is likely to be popular.

David Hinchliffe MP, the chair of the health select committee, said there was "merit" in researching the effectiveness of complementary medicines for NHS use.

"I'm very open-minded on this issue," he said. "A range of alternative medicines we see used in this country do have merit, and we have not taken them sufficiently seriously."

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