I am delighted to be here today to help to celebrate these awards for Integrated Health. It is an even greater pleasure for me to be with so many people who are actually responsible for providing these services.
I have just visited the Gateway Clinic in the grounds of this hospital which provides Traditional Chinese Medicine – a very good example of a service which is not only helping to fill in gaps in conventional care, but is also addressing problems that conventional approaches don't always answer.
It was remarkable to hear how many patients – referred by more than half the GP practices in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham - benefit from its services.
The emphasis today, therefore, is on recognizing and celebrating those projects which are at the forefront of the integrated approach to healthcare. They cover a range of areas such as maternity services, physical disability and mental health and I congratulate everybody involved.
But, Ladies and Gentlemen, whilst the areas which are touched by the integrated approach are expanding – and by integrated I mean the bringing together of the best of complementary and conventional healthcare - it seems to me that there is an urgent need to examine the way in which the Western approach to life and to the world around us is increasingly affecting our overall health. I would suggest that there is a correspondingly urgent need to see a much greater expansion of integrated approaches, and not simply for those who can afford them, in order to deal with the enormous challenges facing us. These challenges stem from what I can only describe as an inherently unsustainable approach to the world around us and within us. In fact, we are now finding that the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost in terms of expecting something for nothing in the way we treat our environment and ourselves.
There are critical aspects of the effect of this conventional approach which conventional medicine cannot hope to deal with adequately, which demand a fundamental shift across a whole range of areas and which have an enormous impact on our physical and mental welfare. The most obvious starting point is to emphasise the importance of prevention.
A recent Government report (Securing Good Health for the Whole Population) spoke of the need for the entire population to become engaged in changing lifestyles, something which, in the view of the authors, would have to be multi-agency led, with Government playing a major role.
But if anybody was in any doubt about the need for a change, just look around. There are almost daily reports of the strength of resistance to antibiotics and the consequent development of so-called “superbugs” in hospitals and clinics.
This Summer two major reports were published which, for some strange reason, seem to have been largely ignored. The first was the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollutions report entitled “Chemicals in Products – Safeguarding the Environment and Human Health”. When launching the report Sir Tom Lundell, the Chairman, said that “given our understanding of the way chemicals interact with the environment, you could say we are running a gigantic experiment with humans and all other living things as the subject.” The second report was from the Royal College of Physicians, entitled “Allergies – the Unmet Need”.
This indicated that the U.K. has the highest prevalence of allergy in the world: 18 million people in this country have an allergy. The report indicated that this was in fact an epidemic and that it was especially severe in children and young adults who are acquiring new allergies which did not previously exist – for example, in relation to nuts, latex, fruits and vegetables. Yet until 1990, peanut allergy in children was rare. Now it affects one in seventy.
Furthermore, it appears that trends are increasing - Why? Well, the evidence shows that, first of all, chemicals in products, and the “sealing” of houses through insulation, is resulting in increased exposure to the development of allergies - many people spend 80% of their lives indoors. Secondly, the lack of exposure to farm animals is also a major contributory factor. The Chairman of the Physicians’ report told me that a pig, for instance, has all the beneficial micro-organisms that help to strengthen the human immune response against allergies.
On top of this, there is an obsession with hygiene, cleanliness and protecting our children against the environment, which might seem reasonable, but which surely must be done in moderation.
And how can it be possible that, in many cases, school meals are often described as woefully inadequate, yet levels of obesity are reaching alarming levels, not just in the adult population, but amongst children? We have surely got the balance badly wrong and somewhere along the line we are going to have to change our whole approach to health, diet and exercise.
I think that there are clear signs, Ladies and Gentlemen, which demand that we should pay much more attention to prevention, and that a “whole person” approach needs to be embraced so that people are enabled to take more personal management of their own health. And to do this I believe we need, once again, to rediscover those gentler, more timeless elements within the complementary approach which, like the baby, were thrown out with the bathwater during the last century. We need to re-balance our Western lives with the best aspects of ancient wisdom and knowledge (the knowledge that stems from a profound understanding of our essential humanity as consisting of mind, body and spirit in a seamless, but often mysterious, whole) and heal the divisions between East and West at the same time as healing the divisions between body and soul.
As an illustration of this I just wanted to mention the case of two remarkable young boys I met at last year’s Children of Courage Awards because it is sometimes the power of individual stories which helps to convince the doubters of the strength of complementary medicine and the integrated approach. A recent edition of Woman’s Own magazine told their story and of how complementary medicine and treatments played a hugely significant role in overcoming the health problems that both boys were suffering from.
When I met them last year, Ben Clinton and Khaleeq Khan were both suffering appallingly – Ben was struggling with chronic eczema and Khaleeq had acute asthma. I could not bear it, so I suggested the possibility of some complementary treatments and put their families in touch with two complementary practitioners. After a programme of careful and dedicated caring spread over nine months, the progress has been enormously heartening.
A combination of homeopathic treatments involving sulphur and calcium carbonate for Ben and regular Johrei (pronounced jo-ray) spiritual healing techniques for Khaleeq have contributed to a marked improvement in both patients.
If ever there was an argument for “seeing is believing”, then the changes to these boys’ lives make for a compelling case.
As you may be aware, I have long believed that a more integrated provision of healthcare will ultimately benefit patients and their families. It seems, to me, that integrated healthcare is not just another description for complementary medicine, nor is it a substitute for conventional care.
An integrated approach has a much wider meaning, with a focus on health and healing rather than disease and treatment - one that seeks to encompass body, mind and spirit as the proper concern of ‘good’, whole person healthcare.
When I first set up my Foundation for Integrated Health, I had great hopes that its creation would serve as a catalyst for change and I am heartened by the progress I now see happening. A study by the University of Sheffield has found that over 50% of GPs are now referring their patients to complementary practitioners. According to a recent poll, 75% of people want complementary medicine to be available on the NHS.
But… what I would like to see is much more progress, more change and greater mainstream recognition for integrated approaches to health in the U.K. – people, after all, are crying out for them and for the extra choice they provide – let alone the probable ultimate saving in cost in the long term.
Interestingly, the Government’s paper on Choice in the health service, published this week, talks of proposals to develop “a framework for access to complementary medicines,” something I can only hope will happen quickly.
Many say that effective modernisation will require courage and innovation. If we want to see an effective health care system that provides integrated health and services for patients, with greater choice, then building a truly patient-centred system - offering both orthodox and complementary healthcare as the norm - must surely be the next courageous thing to do.