King Charles’s appointment of a pro-homeopathy head of the royal medical household has been described as worrying and inappropriate by academics and campaigners.
Dr Michael Dixon, who has championed faith healing and herbalism in his work as a GP, has quietly held the senior position for the last year, the Sunday Times reported.
While Dixon, 71, is head of the royal medical household, for the first time the role is not combined with being the monarch’s physician. Duties include having overall responsibility for the health of the king and the wider royal family – and even representing them in talks with government.
Dixon, who has a penchant for bow ties and a long association with the king, worked in the NHS for almost half a century and is an outspoken advocate of complementary medicine.
He once invited a Christian healer to his surgery to treat chronically ill patients and experimented with prescribing an African shrub called devil’s claw for shoulder pain, as well as horny goat weed for impotence, the Sunday Times reported.
Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor at the University of Exeter, whose work has debunked alternative medicine, said: “Anyone who promotes homeopathy is undermining evidence-based medicine and rational thinking. The former weakens the NHS, the latter will cause harm to society.
“We and others have shown that homeopathy is not an effective therapy, which has today become the accepted consensus. To me, this means its only legitimate place is in the history books of medicine.”
Ernst said “the king can appoint who he wants”, but pointed out that his book on the king’s interest in alternative medicine found that “in the realm of health care, he often seemed to favour people who promote dubious therapies”.
Homeopathic remedies have not been available on prescription since 2017 when NHS England found “no clear or robust evidence to support [their use]”.
Buckingham Palace defended Dixon’s appointment on Sunday, saying “his position is that complementary therapies can sit alongside conventional treatments, provided they are safe, appropriate and evidence based”.
The Good Thinking Society, which promotes scientific scepticism, told the Guardian it was concerned by Dixon’s appointment. Michael Marshall, project director at the society, said: “It isn’t appropriate. I think the role of the monarchy, if it has one in current society, isn’t to be advocating for their own personal projects and their own personal beliefs or using the power and influence they have to further causes that run directly counter to the evidence that we have.
“It’s absolutely unequivocal that homeopathic remedies do not work and just because you happen to be in a position of extreme power and privilege, that doesn’t change that.”
Marshall said the appointment was also worrying because it suggested the king might still be supporting complementary medicine behind the scenes.
He added: “Before Charles became king, he was the patron of homeopathic organisations, he was an outspoken advocate in favour of homeopathy and pushing back the bounds of science towards pseudoscience.
“And the argument was that he would stop doing that once he became king. This appears to be a sign that he isn’t going to do that, that he isn’t going to stop.
“What’s worrying is, as we’ve seen from the black spider memos, Charles is someone who also wields his power and influence quietly behind the scenes as well as publicly, so if this is the kind of step he’s willing to make in public, it raises questions about whether he’s willing to make even more steps in private.”
Graham Smith, chief executive of the campaign group Republic, said: “I think what he’s doing here is risky for the royal family because it throws the spotlight on this aspect of his beliefs that a lot of people wouldn’t be aware of. I think it’s pretty appalling to put someone like that in such a senior high status role … I think we ought to be seeing people put there who are representing real experts in health.”
Smith added: “The whole promotion of alternative medicine undermines the trust in real medicine and I think that putting him in that place is really irresponsible and raises questions about his judgment.”
A Palace spokesperson said: “Dr Dixon is a practising GP; a Fellow of the Royal College of GPs; a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians; former chair of NHS Alliance; former co-chair of the National Social Prescribing Network; former NHS England national clinical champion for social prescribing and the chair of the College of Medicine. He also has an OBE for services to primary care.
“Dr Dixon does not believe homeopathy can cure cancer. His position is that complementary therapies can sit alongside conventional treatments, provided they are safe, appropriate and evidence based.
“As Prince of Wales, the king’s position on complementary therapies, integrated health and patient choice was well documented. In his own words: ‘Nor is it about rejecting conventional medicines in favour of other treatments: the term ‘complementary’ medicine means precisely what it says’.”
Dixon has been approached for comment.
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