Charles attacked over `hair-raising' and `dangerous' alternative therapies

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A new book issued by the Prince of Wales's foundation to promote alternative health therapies has been condemned as unscientific and potentially dangerous by the country's leading authority on complementary medicine.

The book, to be launched next week and issued to all GPs' surgeries, is encouraging the public to resort to unproven treatments, says Professor Edzard Ernst, who holds Britain's only academic chair in the field.

He described one draft of the Prince's book as "hair-raisingly flimsy, misleading and dangerous", and revealed that his repeated offers to correct the text free of charge were rejected.

Complementary Health Care: a guide for patients is published by the Foundation for Integrated Health and offers advice on how to find the 12 most popular non-standard therapies, including reflexology, herbal medicine and yoga therapy. It is part-funded by the Government.

Professor Ernst, from the Peninsula Medical School at Exeter and Plymouth Universities, has written three letters to the foundation expressing his anxiety about statements he says were "frankly inaccurate" and "over- optimistically misleading", but to little effect. "My remit is to apply science to complementary medicine," Professor Ernst said. "That puts me somewhat on a collision course with someone who promotes therapies with no basis in scientific evidence."

He welcomes the Government's decision to put a range of alternative treatments on the health service menu, but insists that therapies should be tested before they receive the backing of Prince Charles or the Government.

The row comes as ministers struggle to regulate the booming market in non-standard therapies. With no formal controls, it is feared the public is in danger from unqualified practitioners. One in five Britons now say they have used herbal or homeopathic medicines, and more are signing up for physical forms of treatment including acupuncture, head massage or aromatherapy.

Michael Fox, chief executive of the Foundation for Integrated Health, which has the Prince of Wales as its patron, said that Professor Ernst's views had been fully taken into account. The disagreement, he said, reflected a difference of approach. Thousands of people already use unregulated therapies and are in need of guidance: "Where Professor Ernst and the foundation might disagree is that he sees a terribly black and white picture."

Agenda, page 29