The British government says it is looking into integrating traditional Chinese medicine into the UK’s national health service. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says if there is enough evidence to prove herbal medicines would benefit patients, they could be made available on the NHS and used alongside western medicines. A group of experts has now been tasked to look at the possibility.
Professor Ke has been running the Asante Academy in north London for more than 14 years.He offers traditional Chinese medicines to a client list which includes celebrities and politicians - but also offers acupuncture on the the UK’s National Health Service. But soon, some of the more traditional herbal treatments could be available on the NHS. Professor Ke says its long overdue.
"Patients go to see various consultant doctors in hospital, but many of them don’t get a good response. But when they come for Chinese medicine the result is fantastic. It is good for them, but also, in terms of economically it is good for government because it is much much cheaper for them to have this treatment and better results than many of the drugs or other therapies in the hospital." Professor Ke said.
The Department of Health has now started an independent Herbal Practioners and Medicines Working Group - made up of senior figures in the industry - to investigate the potential use of Traditional Chinese Medicines. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says NHS money wont be spent on Chinese medicines unless they are backed up by scientific evidence.
Dr Michael Dixon is one of the experts taking part in the working group - and says the aims are two fold.
"We need to make sure that the practitioners are safe, regulated and that the public know that they are. And also that the medicines that they are able to get are equally safe. If we don’t get that then there’s a real risk we might lose herbal medicine in this country." Dr Michael Dixon said.
And safety is the issue. Practitioners of TCMs say the positive results lie in hundreds of years of use - but in the eyes of western medicine, that doesn’t count.
There are literally thousands of Chinese herbs available, but recently researchers in America found that the roots of this poppy plant, called Corydalis, may offer a remedy for chronic pain. Officials here thought want more tests done, before this and similar herbs are available on the health service.
Currently the only traditional Chinese medicine available on the NHS is acupuncture, but the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence only recommends it for lower back pain. Dr Ke says he’d be happy to put TCMs through western tests - but insists there is an attitude problem towards herbal medicines which must be overcome.
"In the media, they always exaggerate the whole story. They think all Chinese medicines are poisonous, full of heavy metals, which is not true. All the patients that come to us are very happy, there are no problems." Dr Michael Dixon said.
The Working group is due to public it’s findings next year - with many believing this is an important step in the medicine world towards integrating eastern methods with western.