LONDON (Reuters) - A leading professor of complementary medicine accused Britain’s heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and other backers of alternative therapies on Monday of being “snake-oil salesmen” who promote products with no scientific basis.
Edzard Ernst, who is stepping down from his post as Britain’s only professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, also said a long-running dispute with the Prince about the merits of alternative therapies had cost him his job - a claim Prince Charles’s office denied.
“Almost directly, Prince Charles has managed to interfere in my professional life and almost managed to close my unit,” Ernst told reporters at a briefing.
A spokeswoman for Prince Charles told Reuters the royal heir was not involved in the dispute with Ernst and that she would not respond to professor’s comments about snake-oil salesmen.
Ernst’s complementary medicine research unit at Exeter’s Peninsula School of Medicine had been threatened with outright closure, but the university has now offered it a reprieve and says it is seeking a successor to Ernst to lead it.
“It looked as though I had to go, and that was the price for the unit to continue,” Ernst said. “I pay the price gladly as it is a small price to pay for the unit to continue.”
Ernst said that during his 18 years of researching the efficacy of hundreds of different types of alternative medicine - from acupuncture, to herbal remedies, to homeopathy and chiropractic therapy - he has found that “snake-oil salesmen and pseudo-science are ubiquitous and dangerous.”
Asked whether he included Prince Charles in that category, he said, “yes.”
He said Prince Charles, a long-time advocate of alternative and integrated medicine and sustainable agriculture, was one of the main obstacles to allowing proper scientific analysis of the efficacy of complementary therapies.
Referring to the prince’s Duchy Originals food company as “dodgy originals” he said the firm’s promotion of a “detox” tincture made from artichoke and dandelion was an example of how the prince peddled scientifically unproven therapies.
In 2009 Ernst accused Prince Charles of “outright quackery” for promoting the detox tincture and other such products “under the banner of holistic and integrative healthcare.”
The 62-year-old prince founded Duchy Originals in 1990 to promote organic food and farming, with profits going to charity.
Duchy Originals describes the product as “a food supplement to help eliminate toxins and aid digestion” and a spokeswoman for the firm said it had no comment about Ernst’s remarks.
Ernst’s dispute with Prince Charles dates back to 2005, when the professor was asked to look at a report by an economist, Christopher Smallwood, who was investigating whether alternative remedies were cost-effective and should be offered more widely on Britain’s taxpayer-funded National Health Service (NHS).
Ernst objected to the report and decided to voice his concerns before it was published. In one section, the report said the NHS could save billions of pounds if some doctors could switch from prescribing conventional medicines to offering alternative therapies. “That was so unspeakable to me that I had to speak out,” Ernst said.
Ernst was accused in a letter from an adviser to Prince Charles, Michael Peat, of having breached a confidentiality agreement on the report and an investigation was launched. Ernst was cleared of wrongdoing, but he says he had by that time lost the support of his institution and its commitment to raise more funding for his work.
A spokeswoman for Prince Charles said he “had no knowledge that a letter was being sent to the University of Exeter by Sir Michael Peat about Edzard Ernst’s breaching of confidence of the Smallwood report in 2005” and was not involved in the dispute.
Ernst and his team have run many clinical trials and published more than 150 so-called meta-analyses of other studies into complementary and alternative medicines.
He says he has identified around 20 such therapies which “demonstrably demonstrate more good than harm” including the herbal remedy St John’s Wort for the treatment of mild depression, hypnosis for the relief of labor pain and hawthorn for the treatment of congestive heart failure.