Nearly a year ago I spoke to some of you when the Foundation for Integrated Medicine organised a major event at Westminster to discuss the document "Integrated Healthcare - A Way Forward for the Next Five Years?". I have been immensely encouraged by the quality of responses to the discussion document and the many helpful and constructive comments that have been received. This conference is intended to be a follow up to that one. In particular, I wanted to ensure that the fullest account was taken of the complementary medicine voice, which you represent. That is why we are devoting this morning's discussion to looking in more detail at the different recommendations from the working groups, whilst in the afternoon we will be focusing on the important topic of regulation, which I will come back to later.
But first of all I want to reflect on how far we have come over the last few years. I look back to the rather "lukewarm" response I received in 1983 as President of the British Medical Association when I first spoke about integration and complementary and alternative medicine. We have clearly travelled a very long way since that time. I believed then, as I do now, that the move to a more integrated provision of healthcare would ultimately benefit patients and their families. While it is very important to acknowledge that tremendous advances have been made in biological and other scientific research, and that we now have the prospect of successfully treating conditions that were previously considered incurable, it is equally clear that this is not seen as sufficient to fulfil all our healthcare needs. The use of complementary therapies continues to grow - you will know the figures better than I do, but nearly 5 million people now use them every year and about 1 in 3 people use some form of complementary therapy during their lives.
Why is this so?
I believe it is because complementary and alternative approaches to healthcare bring a different emphasis to bear which often unlocks an individual's inner resources to aid recovery or help to manage living with a serious chronic illness. It is also because complementary and alternative therapies often offer more effective and less intrusive ways of treating illness. This approach places at its centre the active engagement and involvement of the patient. These ways tend to be less distressing for patients, have fewer side effects and are sometimes less costly than the latest drug and surgical interventions.
To my mind, the most significant change has been the growing acceptance by sections of the orthodox medical and caring community of this approach - which combines the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of healing. It is a tremendous tribute to everyone here that there is a growing acknowledgement of this more rounded approach and we need to continue to build on this achievement. One of the most crucial areas that will assist us in doing so is that of Regulation.
Your conference theme is "professional competence - public confidence". Regulation is one of the major objectives identified in the discussion document recommendations. I was delighted to play a part in the campaign for the statutory regulation of osteopathy which has shown what can be achieved with a focus on the needs of patients. I was also very pleased to see during the consultation process undertaken in preparing the Discussion Document that there was considerable enthusiasm and willingness to pursue high standards of training, regulation and clinical practice within the different alternative and complementary medicine professions. This is very reassuring. However, further progress needs to be made in regulation by some therapies. People need to feel confident that the treatment they receive from any complementary practitioner will be safe. Like conventional medicine, complementary medicine is only safe if practised by a skilled, qualified practitioner, and can be harmful in unskilled hands. The key component to increasing public confidence has to be effective regulation, which includes mechanisms for redress for patients where necessary.
You will hear later on this afternoon about three very different examples of self regulation. Each CAM profession needs to decide which path it wishes to follow in order to establish arrangements which can stand up to public scrutiny. This may mean difficult choices about autonomy. It will require the putting aside of differences and the development of single lead bodies within each profession. It is also important that these developments should take into account the growing trend for other practitioners, for example doctors and nurses, to acquire qualifications in CAM therapies. They should also be subject to the same standards as CAM practitioners.
An important aspect of regulation which needs to improve is to ensure that people who use your services are provided with simple information, in order to help them use services appropriately. This should include, if necessary, information on how to take forward a complaint. It is still difficult for some patients to get information about different CAM treatments. Practitioners are best placed to provide this. I believe this places an important responsibility on you and all those providing treatment to explain fully what is available.
On a final point, I do very much hope that you find today's conference both enjoyable and rewarding. Integrated Healthcare is, I believe, here to stay. The public want it and need it. It is not a takeover of the orthodox by CAM or the other way around, but is rather the bringing together of the best from both for the ultimate benefit of the patient. I look forward to your continued support in making this happen.