It's always a pleasure speaking to natural health practitioners because I know you are kindred spirits who share my passion for holistic healthcare.
It also gives me an opportunity to say how grateful I am that there are people like you in the community who still use traditional, holistic healing techniques and offer people like me an alternative to conventional medical treatment
I can personally testify to the healing and therapeutic benefits of deep tissue massage, shiatsu, reiki healing and acupuncture. Indeed I shudder to think what state I would be in trying to survive in what must surely be one of the most dysfunctional environments in New Zealand, were it not for the wonderful network of healers I have access to.
I am certain that Parliament would be a much less antagonistic and dysfunctional place if MP's were required to trade in our free taxi chits for a free weekly massage or healing session.
It's interesting that over the years many people have commented on the accumulated negative energies in Parliament, especially the debating chamber, and it's a shame that we don't have people who are able to go in and rebalance the discordant energies in Parliament, in the same way that healers such yourselves rebalance the discordant energies in the body.
As you may know the Green Party is totally committed to holistic healthcare, and to restoring traditional or what is called complementary healthcare to its rightful place in the mainstream of our health system.
With costs of conventional medicine and our drug bill soaring — we are spending an extraordinary 11 billion dollars a year on health -- with acute shortages of health professionals etc and deficits etc we believe it is simply common sense that we embrace more holistic, low tech, less invasive therapies which can help to keep us well and prevent us from succumbing to disease, and can also reduce our dependence on prescription drugs, and help shift the focus of our health system towards wellness and prevention rather than just treating illness.
At present almost all of the health budget is spent on treating people once they have become ill. And we would like to see the name of the Ministry of Health — - or more appropriately, the Ministry of Ill health — changed to the Ministry of Wellness and the whole focus of the Ministry changed so that it is focussed on ways of keeping us all well and healthy - by improving the quality of the food we eat, supporting natural therapies that help to keep us well, and other initiatives to reduce the numbers of us who are becoming ill in the first place.
We would also like to see a move away from the conventional drug based medical system to an integrated, holistic system of healthcare, which combines the best of traditional and conventional medicine which is focussed on keeping people well, stimulating the body's innate natural healing mechanisms, and uses drugs and surgery and conventional medicine as a last rather than as a first resort.
We want to see in New Zealand what already exists in many countries overseas — traditional healthcare like homeopathy, acupuncture and naturopathy recognised and accepted throughout our health system, working alongside GPs in public health organisations and hospitals using whatever treatment is judged to be most effective and not whatever treatment brings most profits to the pharmaceutical industry.
Sadly this is seen as a radical vision at this stage --and not yet shared by other political parties in Parliament. The Greens are out in front. Just as climate change I am sure in a few years time this will become a mainstream view.
In the meantime, while attitudes shift, we have been beavering away quietly for many years trying to slowly shift the paradigm of our health system and move towards more integrated healthcare.
Seven years ago, as a Green Party budget initiative, we succeeded in getting a Ministerial Advisory Committee on Complementary Healthcare set up to advise the Minister of Health on ways of integrating complementary healthcare into the New Zealand health system.
The committee met for several years and debated the issue thoroughly and published an excellent report which sadly got shelved by the then Health Minister, Annette King, because it was released around the same time that the government was trying to regulate traditional medicine through the Trans Tasman Therapeutics Products and Medicines Authority — a move that would have seen dietary supplements regulated like medicines, and many of them disappear from our shelves.
For several years our energies were spent trying to defeat this bill, and thankfully we succeeded.
And earlier this year the next Health Minister Pete Hodgson agreed to set up a Chief Advisor on Integrated Healthcare, who will be appointed in the next couple of weeks.
The new Unit will provide advice to the Director General of Health on the integration of complementary healthcare and conventional medicine, particularly in the area of primary care and chronic condition management.
There is still a long way to go — a lot of resistance amongst parts of the health profession. Medical students are still not even taught about complementary healthcare — or about nutrition and healing.
I suspect the reason this is still not happening, and why there is still something of a war between conventional and natural medicine, is because in our quest for progress, in pursuit of science, we have tended to reject ancient wisdom and traditional knowledge or anything that is not evidence based and outside of scientific paradigm.
In a brilliant speech to the World Health Organisation last year, Prince Charles appealed to world leaders to embrace a radical new vision of integrated healthcare which combines the best of the ancient well tried methods of healing with the rigours of science and technology.
"We cannot afford to overlook or waste any knowledge, experience or wisdom from different healing traditions that could be bought to bear in the cause of helping those who suffer," he said. "We need to make the best use of all of our available resources and acknowledge the limitations as well as the huge strengths of modern medicine. We owe it to ourselves as well as to our patients to explore the potential of treatments such as acupuncture, and homeopathy to alleviate pain, suffering and disability."
With costs of conventional medicine and our drug bill soaring, with acute shortages of health professionals etc we believe it is simply common sense that we embrace patient-centred, low tech, cost effective, less invasive and more holistic therapies which can help to keep us well and prevent us from succumbing to disease; which can reduce our dependence on prescription drugs, improve the overall health of New Zealanders and help shift our emphasis towards wellness and preventing rather than just treating illness.
I believe we are starting to see this shift and I am certain that the day will come where instead of discrediting every other form of healing than conventional medicine, as Western medicine has traditionally done, doctors and other health professionals will have the humility, the wisdom and the intelligence to look again at other traditional forms of healing and rediscover some of the well-tried practices that have been accumulated over thousands of years — acupuncture, ayurvedic medicine, rongoa and herbalism, to mention just a few.