As the UK population celebrates the healthy arrival of Prince William and Catherine Middleton's new born baby son, news of the Royal birth of the third heir to the throne shadows last week's Royal family related health news. Indeed, earlier in the month the focus was on the direct heir to the throne, The Prince of Wales, who was reported to be in talks with the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt concerning homeopathy and alternative medicines which he would like to see integrated more officially into the National Health Service.
The British media reported that the Prince lobbied for the advantages of homeopathy in hospitals during a meeting between himself and Hunt. It is believed that Prince Charles made a special effort to meet with the Health Secretary to discuss ongoing plans to establish a register of herbal and Chinese medicine practitioners which he has been pushing for quite some time. Reports indicated that he is frustrated at the delay with the register's publication. However, news of the secret meeting resulted in outcry from the Labour party who are weary of the two mens' enthusiasm for alternative therapies. Labour politicians fear that Prince Charles' influence could be dangerous considering that the benefits - and safety - of many homeopathic products has yet to be proven scientifically.
Supporters of homeopathic medicines believe them to be superior to conventional medical treatments because they avoid strong powerful drugs in favour of highly diluted non- toxic substances. Essentially, they believe that illnesses can be treated by using a very diluted dose of the substance which causes the symptoms in the first place. Homeopathic practitioners believe that these diluted substances- which can be topical, but are often found in pill form- can be used to treat a wide range of medical conditions from asthma to allergies and from dermatitis to depression, stress and anxiety.
In addition to the substances, Homeopathy claims to include a more holistic approach than is available from most general practitioners. Homeopathic practitioners might spend between one and two hours, in an initial consultation with a patient in order to get a strong understanding of their physical, mental and emotional states, their lifestyle and any physical or emotional illnesses. They then use this information to gather information about symptoms and then investigate homeopathic treatments accordingly.
Prince Charles has long been known for endorsing homeopathic medicine. His public support for it stretches back many years to the origins of The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health which he started in 1993 with the intention of promoting alternative and complementary medicine. During these years, he also became active supporter of the movement to treat NHS patients with homeopathic substances - and he has taken this further by arguing that GPs in the UK should offer such treatments to their patients.
A 2009 survey commissioned by homeopathic manufacturers Nelsons, found that 78 per cent of the 3,373 respondents wanted to be able to access both conventional and complementary treatment on the NHS. The complementary medicines are popular among users because they tend to have much less side- effects than conventional drugs which often come with a list of possible side effects ranging from drowsiness to headaches and nausea. In particular there have been claims that for hayfever sufferers, homeopathic treatments are an effective alternative to commonly prescribed antihistamines.
Homeopathic practitioners have pushed to make the general public aware that these treatments are available from the NHS and even from homeopathic hospitals which accept NHS patients. In fact, clinics and trusts are free to offer homeopathic substances if they are requested by patients or if they feel they are an appropriate treatment. On the other hand, it has generally been viewed as a discussion which governments should stay away from due to the lack of scientific evidence available. Some research has even indicated that homeopathic treatments have put patients at risk by failing to acknowledge that a patient has serious, life- threatening symptoms which require urgent surgical attention instead of homeopathic pills. In addition, in 2010, a report from the Health Select Committee criticised the effectiveness of homeopathy, and as a result, recommended that it "should not be funded on the NHS."
But these findings have only served to make the Prince of Charles more determined. He was very recently involved with a court case after it was revealed that over the years he had sent multiple letters to various ministers, in an attempt to influence health policy decisions. Just recently, judges overruled a motion to make the letters public knowledge. It seems he does not know when to give up- especially now that he knows that Jeremy Hunt, the current Health Secretary is also a supporter of complementary medicine.
Despite their combined power, their meeting is unlikely to mean an imminent change to the NHS. In addition to a lack of clinical trials and published research, those who condemned Prince Charles's meeting with Hunt last week did so in the name of transparency. There are a great number of people who feel that the Prince of Wales entering political discussions in the hope of influencing public policy and public spending is purely unethical. Some politicians went as far as to suggest that he should stay out of the discussion if not least for the fact that whether they adopt a register of complementary practitioners or not, it is very unlikely that he would ever step inside an NHS hospital for treatment.