The IMA is a group of organisations and individuals that have been brought together for the purpose of encouraging and optimising the best use of complementary therapies alongside conventional healthcare for the benefit of all.
The idea for this group was conceived by Dr Michael Dixon in discussion with colleagues associated with the College of Medicine, and the initial meeting to convene the group was held in February 2019.
The group transitioned through a number of titles before settling on the ‘Integrated Medicine Alliance’ and began work on developing a patient leaflet and a series of information sheets on the key complementary therapies.
It was agreed that in the first instance the IMA should exist under the wing of the College of Medicine, but that in the future it may develop into a formal organisation in its own right, but inevitably maintaining a close relationship with the College of Medicine.
Why the Integrated Medicine Alliance?
by Dr Michael Dixon
Orthodox medicine was suffering a crisis of confidence even before the advent of Covid 19. In spite of all its best efforts, the level of long-term disease – heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mental health problems and cancer were all rising rapidly. At the same time the health service was becoming increasingly stretched with deep rooted problems in recruitment. Orthodox medicine was itself facing serious issues such as the rise in antibiotic resistance and the relentless increase in the population using opiates – with the later now being the commonest cause of death in young people in some parts of the developed world. Covid 19 has exposed deep seated inequalities and unmasked the vast unmet need in mental health.
On the more positive side, Covid 19 has revealed an enormous seam of public goodwill with 750,000 volunteers coming forward nationally and with local communities and health services being supported by individuals and families taking on extended responsibility for self-care and collective responsibility for those around them. At the same time, it has exposed a gap between the rigorous application of modern evidence-based medicine and the more practical common-sense interventions in terms of lifestyle and diet, for example, which have proved popular with many people who wanted to feel that they might be able to play an active role in lessening the probability of getting Covid 19 and ameliorating its effects. Vitamin D, for instance, has also been a case in point with the National Institute for Clinical Excellence saying that there is insufficient evidence for its use, while much of the population (encouraged by the College of Medicine) are taking it on the basis that it is safe, many of us a mildly deficient in it, and that it may have beneficial effect.
These limitations in our current medical model set the scene for a resurgence of interest in complementary medicine, wherever it is appropriate, safe and there is evidence for its use. ‘Appropriate’ – that is – in the sense of patients not being denied or persuaded against a potentially lifesaving conventional intervention. ‘Safe’ – in the sense that it is at least as safe as its conventional counterpart. ‘Evidence based’ – meaning that there is sufficient evidence that is appropriate to the seriousness of the condition. Covid 19 has also exposed the need for more research on evidence outside conventional medicine. There has been, for instance, a singular lack of any central guidance on diet, herbs and supplements, which may well have a role in such epidemics.
Many complementary interventions can run side by side with conventional medicine and it is important that conventional practitioners should know about complementary options (even if not suggesting them) and that complementary practitioners should have some essential biomedical knowledge themselves. If that were to happen then patients would be able to access ‘the best of both worlds’ in a safe way and without having to integrate their treatment themselves, because at present, there is little communication between their conventional and complementary therapists. To achieve this, conventional practitioners and their patients will need authoritative information on which complementary treatments are appropriate for which conditions, how their patients can access them and how they and their patients can know that they are of sufficient quality and safe.
These are questions that will be uppermost in the mind of the Integrated Medicine Alliance (IMA) at its inauguration. The Alliance will provide patients, clinicians and social prescribing link workers with clear guidance on the different complementary therapies available and how they can access the right and sufficiently qualified complementary therapists. Given the potential of such interventions to reduce the call on conventional healthcare and engender a sense of self-dependence – quite apart from any direct beneficial effects – it seems intuitive that there now needs to be an expanded role for complementary medicine working alongside the National Health Service.
They say ‘United we stand and divided we fall’. The IMA is a coming together of the principal organisations that represent different modalities in complementary medicine. It also symbolises a new relationship between complementary medicine and the health service. One which enables complementary and conventional medicine to work with each other in the best interests of our patients, our clinicians, our therapists and the wider community.