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Integrative medicine and how we can work together

  • Dr. Elizabeth Thompson
    Dr. Elizabeth Thompson

    Dr Elizabeth Thompson trained at Oxford University and then Guys Hospital before embarking on training in Oncology, Radiotherapy and Palliative Medicine. She obtained her CCST in 1999 and took up an NHS Consultant Homeopathic Physician post in Bristol in 2000. Her DM(Oxon) thesis investigated homeopathy to support troublesome symptoms for someone living with cancer and the nature of placebo.

    She is CEO and Founder of the National Centre for Integrative Medicine and has led the development and delivery of the first master’s level 7 Diploma in Integrative Healthcare in Europe. She is also Council Member of the College of Medicine, the British Society for Integrative Oncology, and is on the Editorial Board of the European Journal of Integrative Medicine and Past President for the European Congress for Integrative Medicine and The Integrative and Personalised Medicine Conference.

  • 11:00 reading time (ish)
  • Herbal Projects

Integrative medicine finds a way for different medical systems to work together. Here, the founder of the National Centre for Integrative Medicine shares insights on different aspects of this new medical paradigm.

The story of integrative medicine in the UK

Integrative Medicine and how we can work together

Being given an open invitation to write about Integrative Medicine (IM) I have been wondering what is most important to communicate about this model of healthcare I have been investing time and energy in. It’s a decade since I set up the National Centre for Integrative Medicine, as a centre of excellence and part of a wave of transformation inspired by Dr Andrew Weil from Arizona University who coined the term. He was brave enough to emphasise an inclusive and diverse model that combines conventional, lifestyle and holistic approaches to support health and wellbeing (1). 

Lifestyle medicine in the UK is moving a pace and frontline doctors are adopting recommendations also wanting to move medicine downstream to prevent illness and take the pressure off an overwhelmed NHS. It’s those “pesky” holistic or complementary approaches and their purported lack of science that are hard to look after, including herbal medicine. You may remember that in October 2018, NHS England under Simon Stephens leadership, recommended that no doctor be allowed to prescribe homeopathic or herbal products. Soon after, it was decided that some doctors would be asked to prescribe cannabis for their patients creating confusion about whether herbal medicines should have a place in modern healthcare. It highlights the battle between what our patients find useful and what doctors find acceptable, described by Sophie Sabbage, as being ‘caught in the crossfire’ (2). After 30 years of working in cancer and having set up an Integrative Cancer Care service in a Bristol teaching hospital offering a herbal preparation of mistletoe and homeopathic medicines, it was this ban on herbal and homeopathic products that heralded the closure of the NHS homeopathic service I had led in Bristol. It is important to note that herbalism and homeopathy are very different systems of medicine, but they are often grouped together as they are both “alternative” to pharmaceuticals. 

Fashions come and go and when I arrived in Bristol in the year 2000 as a newly qualified NHS Consultant, complementary therapies and associated research were being supported with an emphasis on inexpensive and safe interventions being an important part of a modern health service. Over the next 15 years the sceptics groups armed with scientism, lobbied for the removal of complementary services and even now are lobbying to remove positive research trials from the scientific literature. 

Now with the help of terms such as Integrative Medicine and Integrative Oncology the pendulum is swinging again. For example, the Society of Integrative Oncology has issued guidelines recommending mistletoe in breast cancer because of good quality science and combining conventional, lifestyle and complementary approaches in cancer care is gaining traction with a view to reducing treatment side effects and supporting quality of life (3).

Dr. Elizabeth Thompson

Dr Elizabeth Thompson trained at Oxford University and then Guys Hospital before embarking on training in Oncology, Radiotherapy and Palliative Medicine. She obtained her CCST in 1999 and took up an... Read more

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