Prince Charles 'Black Spider' letters released: Future king lobbied ministers over NHS spending and called for funding of homeopathic hospitals

The correspondence confirms the willingness of the prince to use his access to ministers to advocate privately for his causes

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Prince Charles lobbied ministers over NHS spending by calling for continued funding of homeopathic hospitals and the defeat of a “campaign” against alternative therapies, according to the latest release of his letters to government.

The heir to the throne wrote to then Health Secretary Alan Johnson in 2007 seeking to prevent cuts or closure at three NHS hospitals specialising in complementary medicine, arguing that do so was “in the interests of the nation’s health”.

The correspondence, consisting of 17 letters to and from government departments released after a decade-long legal battle, confirms the willingness of the prince to use his access to ministers to advocate privately for his causes.

The first tranche of 27 of the so-called “black spider” letters, released last month following two Freedom of Information Act requests by The Guardian, revealed how the prince lobbied at the highest level of government on issues from fish conservation to equipment for troops in Iraq.

In the second - and final - release covering letters written between September 2007 and June 2009 the heir to the throne raises issues from the plight of listed buildings and rural housing to efforts to eradicate the poisonous ragwort plant.

But his most animated correspondence concerned his longstanding advocacy of homeopathy.

Charles wrote to Mr Johnson in September 2007 following a face-to-face meeting complaining that he had suffered “waves of invective over the years” from within the the “Medical and Scientific Establishments” for his support of integrating complementary therapies with conventional medicine.

The prince, who insisted there was growing evidence of the effectiveness of alternative medicine, said the only reason he persisted with the issue was “because I cannot bear people suffering unnecessarily when a complementary approach could make a real difference”.

He went on to underline funding threats to the three hospitals, claiming there was an “anti-homeopathy campaign” and pressing for funding to continue despite cuts elsewhere within the health service.

Highlighting plans to close a homeopathic hospital in Tunbridge Wells, Charles said the clinics were saving money with a “low-risk, low-cost, low-tech approach” and avoiding referrals for more expensive treatments.

 

He wrote: “For all these reasons it must surely make abundant sense to safeguard the [homeopathic hospitals] in the interests of the nation’s health.”

In his reply, Mr Johnson, who was also being lobbied by the prince to improve hospital food by sourcing from local farmers, confirmed the closure of the Tunbridge Wells hospital and defended the right of NHS purchasers to base their funding on “clinical effectiveness”.

The NHS continues to run two homeopathic hospitals in Bristol and London, where the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine is Europe’s largest public sector provider of alternative and complementary therapies.

Anti-monarchy campaigners criticised the prince’s intervention in the area of public funding. Graham Smith, chief executive of Republic, said: “Charles has been demanding the cash-strapped NHS spend money on homeopathy, despite all the evidence against its efficacy. He’s entitled to his opinion, but mustn’t abuse his position to force his opinion on others.

Anyone can lobby a government minister if they wish, but Charles has unique and secretive access and the opportunity to put pressure on ministers.”

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Prince Charles wrote to Health Secretary Andy Burnham following his appointment as Alan Johnson's replacement (PA)

Royal aides said the letters showed once more the range of concerns held by the prince “for this country and the wider world” and the issues he raised with ministers were those he had also spoken of in the public.

In a statement, Clarence House said: “In all these cases, the Prince of Wales is raising issues of public concern, and trying to find practical ways to address the issues.”

The release of the letters followed a Supreme Court judgment ordering their publication under the FOI Act. The legislation has been changed since The Guardian’s original requests to exempt all documentation relating to senior members of the Royal Family.

Minister offered Prince assurances on ragwort

From affordable housing to organic vegetables, the issues raised by Prince Charles with ministers were wide ranging. But few in Whitehall are likely to have anticipated a royal crusade against the perils of ragwort.

A letter from Labour Health Secretary Alan Johnson to Charles reveals that the heir to the throne raised concern at the highest levels of government in 2008 about control of the plant, which is poisonous to some animals and classified by law as an “injurious weed”.

The precise nature of royal concern is difficult to discern because the original letter to Mr Johnson from the prince’s private secretary is not included in yesterday’s release of correspondence.

But the Cabinet minister offered assurances that control of ragwort, which is loved by insects but contains toxins poisonous to horses and cattle, was taken “very seriously” by the Labour government, pointing out the existence of an eradication programme around the M25.

Charles also appears to have been worried at the potential sale of herbal medication featuring active ingredients from ragwort, prompting Mr Johnson to offer assurances that no such remedies were currently licensed in the UK.

Diplomatically pointing out that weed control was not part of his remit, the minister added: “I am sure colleagues in Defra will be able to provide you with further assurances about controlling the spread of the plant.”

His humble servant: Andy Burnham

Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham may currently be brushing up his left-wing credentials but when it came to addressing the heir to throne by letter he was all deference.

While some of his colleagues opted for plain “yours sincerely”, Mr Burnham signed off a reply to a letter from Prince Charles congratulating him on his appointment as health secretary with all the flamboyance of an 18th-Century courtier.

Mr Burnham wrote: “I have the honour to remain, Sir, Your Royal Highness’s most humble and obedient servant.”

Accusations of obsequiousness may be, however, unfair. The politician would only have been following the advice of his civil servants on the correct final flourish.

Cahal Milmo

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