Prince Charles isn’t exactly a stranger to controversy. The future King of England has famously never shied away for standing up for what he believes in, even if it means swimming against the tide of popular opinion.
Last week, he was announced as patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy, a move that has set a cat amongst the pigeons of conventional persuasion. He has been branded ‘irresponsible’ and an ‘enemy of medical progress’, while his decision to accept the post has been dismissed as obscene.
Regardless of what you think about homeopathy and its efficacy or otherwise – and Lord knows there are plenty of opposing views on that topic, as there are on any form of medicine that doesn’t toe the line of convention – what HRH’s appointment does very efficiently is fly the flag for open-mindedness.
The argument against the Prince publicly supporting the Faculty of Homeopathy is largely based on the premise that there is no clinical evidence to show that homeopathy is any more effective than a placebo.
It’s the same argument that champions of conventional clinical medicine trot out for just about any treatment that isn’t either provided or supported by the NHS.
In fact, there are any number of treatments – acupuncture, herbal medicine, natural medicine, complementary treatments and homeopathy among them – that have been roundly dismissed by the NHS, Public Health England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as having ‘just’ a placebo effect.
I’ll come on to the truth of clinical trials in a moment, but to dismiss any alternative form of complementary medical care as being no better than a placebo is fatuous given there’s plenty of clinical evidence to show that placebos can have a significant positive impact on health.
Until the project ended three years ago, the BMJ defined efficacy of conventional clinical treatments, based on a review of its own literature, as follows:
11% of treatments were found to be beneficial
24% were likely to be beneficial
7% represented a trade-off between benefits and harms
5% were assessed as being unlikely to be beneficial
3% were likely to be ineffective or harmful
And the remaining 50%? Clinical trials couldn’t determine their effectiveness.
In plain language, what that means is that the alternative or complementary treatments critics dismiss as being clinically unproven are at worst no less effective than half the treatments currently provided by the NHS.
And a word on those clinical trials.
It’s true that there’s a lack of clinical evidence to support many forms of complementary medicine. In most cases, though, the reason, for that is not that the research isn’t conclusive, but rather that clinicians are disinclined to invest in trialling it.
What does that mean? It means there is plenty of evidence to show the benefit of natural treatments and we have thousands of patients that will attest to that. – but clinicians are generally too blinkered by conventional dogma to see the obvious.
So we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Even though there are treatments outside the NHS that could have an exponentially positive complementary benefit when it comes to public health, there isn’t enough clinically-accepted research to make them accessible as a matter of routine to people.
I might add that when you read books like Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre or Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime by Peter Gøtzsche you will quickly realise the crime and deadly bias that surrounds much of the pharma industry-funded published drug research.
And that’s why the decision of Prince Charles to support the Faculty of Homeopathy – an organisation that’s been around for 175 years – may be a shot in the arm for the champions of open-mindedness.
By stepping into the firing line, this career disruptor has demonstrated the glaring need for better-informed debate and discussion around natural and complementary medicine and highlighted the need for policymakers and health practitioners to cast their net wider in trying to find effective ways of treating an ageing and ailing population.