“This isn't a question of orthodox medicine taking over or of complementary and alternative medicine diluting the intellectual rigour of orthodoxy; it is about reaching across the disciplines to help and to learn from one another for the ultimate benefit of the patients that you all serve” - Prince Charles, Founder of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine.
Sometimes known as “the Prince Charles approach” or “why don’t we all just work together”, the new move to integrate CAM therapies into the mainstream NHS may be attractive, but will it all end in tears?
“I couldn’t work without complementary therapies now,” says Dr Sue Morrison, one of the general practitioners at the Marylebone Health Centre. “Bodywork, and massage in particular, reaches everyone and is a wonderful comfort and healing thing to offer. We have a big multi-ethnic group of patients, and it can help break through language barriers and help those with emotional, as well as physical problems, in a very short time.” The Marylebone Health Centre was a pioneer in the collaboration between orthodox and other therapies, when it was founded in 1987. It’s a shining example of how CAM and orthodox health care can work along side each other. We hear the patient’s experience of properly integrated care, and Dr Bob Leckridge, GP and Homeopath explains how he sees the visit to a doctor for back pain in ten years’ time: “Well, I hope the guy with the back pain comes in, and he meets his GP, and his GP's well trained, got good skills and understands the person as a whole person, helps the patient to understand why they've got back pain, how it's come about and to make a proper diagnosis and then get him treatment from one of the CAM therapists on the team”. We visit a hospital in China to see how western and traditional Chinese medicine can work side by side. In many hospitals there will be both types of approach readily available often just across the corridor from each other.
But who wears the trousers in this professional partnership – is CAM doomed to be subservient to the orthodox? Would only certain types of CAM (perhaps the “Big Five”) be acceptable to the medical mainstream – and why? To what extent are resource shortages always going to stand in the way of CAM? If CAM were fully integrated into the NHS, would it simply become mainstream medicine and therefore lose some of its unique attraction?
Is it time to question the entire basis upon which our medical care is organised? Some therapists, such as energy healer Kim Hutchison, think the two worlds could never be integrated: “The orthodox reductionist view is drug centred and its viewpoint is molecular - that the physical body is detached from the mind and the soul. Well, we're far more complex than a bunch of molecules in a Petri dish. Until we understand that our minds and bodies are directly affected by our consciousness, we will not be able to help our patients to experience true healing. We need to integrate the healers, not the methods”. We explore some of the tensions and political struggles that have surfaced as a result of the push towards integration.
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First broadcast: Tuesday 21 Sep 2004 on BBC Radio 4