Andy Burnham assured Prince Charles over complementary medicine plan


Andy Burnham, when he was health secretary, assured Prince Charles that he was keen to move forward with a pilot study to integrate complementary medicine with standard NHS care in England in response to the royal’s latest written intervention in the subject.

Burnham, thanking the prince for his “kind letter” on his appointment as health secretary in the Labour government in June 2009, told him that the results of a £200,000 pilot study in Northern Ireland, which funded GPs to refer patients for acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy and other complementary treatments, were “very interesting”.

“I am in conversation with my officials about our plans to run a similar study in England,” wrote Burnham, now a contender for the Labour leadership.

The prince had previously written to his predecessor, Alan Johnson, lobbying for a scheme run at the Royal Brompton hospital, linking its catering to local farmers’ hubs, to be extended across the NHS. Burnham said he also found this interesting.

“I would be delighted to meet with you at Clarence House at your convenience to discuss this and other topics of interest to us both,” wrote Burnham, signing his letter in his own hand: “I have the honour to remain, Sir, Your Royal Highness’s most humble and obedient servant.”

Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, said: “The letters demonstrate yet again that Prince Charles relentlessly meddles in UK health politics and thus disrespects his constitutional role. His arguments in favour of CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] and in particular homeopathy, show a devastating lack of knowledge and understanding; they are ill-informed, invalid and embarrassingly naive – but at the same time they are remarkably persistent.”

An earlier letter from Johnson gives a far more guarded response to the prince’s urgings to extend the Northern Ireland pilot scheme to England. The project was initiated in 2007 by Peter Hain, when he was Northern Ireland secretary.

Hain later told of his own enthusiasm for complementary medicine, saying in an interview in 2009 that his baby son’s eczema had not responded to conventional medicine, such as a steroid spray, but went away when treated with homeopathy and a change of diet. Scientists are highly critical of homeopathic preparations, which contain just a drop of active substance in a large quantity of water.

On 19 September 2007, Prince Charles wrote to Johnson asking him to “safeguard” the homeopathic hospitals – the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (now the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine) and also one in Tunbridge Wells “in the interests of the nation’s health”. They were facing cuts in funding following what the prince described as a recent “anti-homeopathy campaign”.

In conclusion, he raised the Northern Ireland pilot scheme, saying: “It would be splendid if you felt it might be possible to replicate this exploratory integrated project on the mainland, perhaps as a choice pilot?”

Johnson replied that the primary care trusts funding the homeopathy hospitals felt “they have to take into account the clinical effectiveness of any treatments they commission”. And on complementary medicines generally, Johnson said the Department of Health “recognises that we need more research into effectiveness and cost effectiveness”.

If Johnson was equivocal, the critics of Charles are less so.

Ernst said: “Charles tries to give the impression that he is motivated by passion and compassion, but in healthcare such drivers need solid evidence and expertise. Charles has neither, which is not just regrettable, it is arrogant on his part and potentially harmful for public health.”

Read more:

Short URL: