Having recently received information on a seminar calling together policymakers and key stakeholders to examine the future for healthcare policy in Ireland, it was astounding to note once more the emphasis on medical care. Again and again, it seems that references to our nation’s health/healthcare by the policy makers relates to the the prevention and treatment of disease. As previously mentioned in this column, our Department of Health’s mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of people in Ireland, however all the reports, plans, strategies and funding lingers in the sole environment of medical treatment.

In contrast, the natural health industry promotes health maintenance and is concerned with holistic health care and not just medical care. We are all familiar with the evidence that a healthy balanced diet with adequate amounts of physical activity contribute to lowering the risk of suffering from a chronic disease. Indeed this is supported by the findings of the recently published Board Bia 2017 PERIscope study which states that 88% of Irish adults recognise the importance of eating well and acknowledge the link between diet and wellbeing.

In general, the survey indicates that Irish consumers appear to have internalised the importance of eating healthily and it concludes that they are more likely to believe that healthy food has a beneficial impact on their well-being, mental health, body and mind. However despite this noble belief and intent, it is reported that only around 33% admitted to eating healthily themselves. Hence the need for informed supplementation, a previous Board Bia study stated that 6 out of 10 Irish women do not get enough iron and the 2016 survey from Safefood found that while 95% of women are aware of the benefits of taking folic acid, only 30%/36% are actually taking it. This may seem disheartening, however on the positive side, the natural health industry in Ireland is flourishing capturing new customers daily while keeping strong links with the faithful, in time these statistics will change for the better.

It was heartening to read recently that the Swiss Federal Government announced that specific medical services using complementary medicine are to be covered by mandatory health insurance (basic insurance) as of August 1st 2017. This decision is a follow up by the Swiss parliamentarians on the people’s endorsement by referendum in 2009 that complementary medicine be included in the public healthcare system.

Conventional medical practitioners who have an additional qualification in one of the four disciplines as recognised by the Swiss Medical Association (FMH) namely; anthroposophical medicine, classical homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine and herbal medicine will qualify to be included in the scheme.  Bravo to the Swiss populous in their determinations and prudence.

It’s a very different story however on the island of the United Kingdom, initially perked up by reading the headline NHS England launches action plan to drive out wasteful and ineffective drug prescriptions, saving NHS over £190 million a year” dismayed on further investigation. The news story published on the NHS website went on to announce the launch of a formal public consultation on the establishment of new national guidelines which would advocate among other things that specific treatments including homeopathy and herbal treatments should generally not be prescribed.

We know how powerful a coordinated public stance can be, now is the time for UK citizens to send in their views and inform their NHS policy makers on their disagreement and rejection regarding the latter’s assessment of the non-place within the national healthcare system for traditional and complementary medicine. This will surely deserve a bravo to those that do.
This limited thinking by some health policy makers is in stark contrast to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014–2023. Their strategic objective provides for the putting in place of support for countries choosing to foster practical policies and plans that will strengthen the role traditional and complementary medicine, products, practices and practitioners have, in keeping populations healthy. So a well-deserved bravo to the World Health Organisation.