When you think about it, what on earth is the point of throwing away our lifeline; of abandoning the priceless knowledge and wisdom accumulated over 1,000’s of years relating to the treatment of the human condition by natural means? It is sheer folly it seems to me to forget that we are a part of Nature and to imagine we can survive on this Earth as if we were merely a mechanical process divorced from, and in opposition to, the unity of the world around us.
That that is why, for the last twenty five years or so, I have been determined to encourage the establishment of a truly integrated approach to healthcare in the United Kingdom. In other words a system where the most valuable strengths of science and technology and all that they offer can be aligned with the best that can be identified and deployed through complementary measures rooted in time-tested traditional therapies. The winners and runners-up of the Integrated Health Awards, and indeed the many other projects which made it onto the shortlist, are excellent examples of this approach and, as we have seen, they make an enormous difference to the lives of the people they help and support.
Now I hope you will appreciate, why I think this is all so important as far as health and well-being are concerned. It was in order to inspire more of this kind of work that I set up my Foundation in the first place - to encourage and foster appropriate regulation, high standards of practice and the compilation of bodies of evidence in order to help create a more holistic, safe and truly integrated system. In effect, this is simply a reflection of what people are actually doing.
We all know I suspect of people who visit an acupuncturist, maybe adopt a regime involving changes of diet and the use of homeopathic remedies, seek out an osteopath; or find to the amazement of their rationalist selves that they benefit from herbal procedures.
These “rationalist selves” would be enormously, relieved to see the effectiveness of these treatments proven through the “double-blind randomized controlled trial” – the gold-standard of medical research. However, we know that some complementary and alternative medicine disciplines (and indeed other forms of medical or surgical intervention) do not lend themselves to this research method. However, scientific evaluation is nonetheless important and possible.
Instead, it has been suggested that we need a research method for complementary treatment that is, to use that awful expression, “fit for purpose”. Something that is entirely practical – what has been called “applied” research – which takes into account the whole person and the whole treatment as it is actually given in the surgery or the hospital. Something that might offer us a better idea of the cost-effectiveness of any given approach. It would also help to provide the right sort of evidence that health service commissioners require when they decide which services they wish to commission for their patients.
So before I leave the subject of evidence, I can only suggest that researchers and commissioners also look at the whole issue of safety in the context of cost-effectiveness. The well known medical dictum, “First do no harm”, is particularly relevant here as many unconventional treatments have fewer side effects than their conventional equivalent and are often – and I say this with the voice of first hand experience – more pleasant for the patient.
Ladies and Gentlemen, believe it or not I have been advocating the development of a truly integrated health system – one rooted in appropriate regulation and supported by rigorous scientific evidence – for the best part of twenty five years. Perhaps it will take another quarter of a century to see its realization. But even if it takes a great deal of effort I hope you will feel that such an approach is surely a worthy and proper ambition, given – if nothing else – the need not only to reduce the rising cost of the drugs bill for the N.H.S., but also the requirement to find ways of easing demands on clinicians to treat a whole series of man-made chronic conditions that it is reported take up some 80 per cent of doctors’ time and cause a great deal of unnecessary suffering to many patients.
As well as congratulating today’s winners, I hope you will forgive me highlighting just a couple of examples of how my Foundation is making a difference for the better in this whole area.
You may have become aware, through extensive media coverage, of the creation and yet-to-be-launched Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, which is the culmination of a five year programme of regulatory reform between my Foundation for Integrated Health and the Department of Health. The Council will be responsible for introducing a single regulatory system for complementary health, through a professional structure.
In addition, the Foundation is introducing a pilot scheme at Barts and the London Medical School which develops a coherent module of integrated health as part of basic medical training. In time, it could be extended to the U.K.’s other medical schools.
Finally Ladies and Gentlemen, I did just want to thank you all again for coming today and congratulate the winners and runners up and I do so hope that you feel inspired by these wonderful people and the work that they are doing to make integrated healthcare a reality – and to empower people to achieve their optimal health and wellbeing.
My fervent wish, as I enter my sixth decade, is that integration will in future no longer rely on heroes like these but become part of normal practice and available to all patients.