After writing about how Prince Charles’ charity, the Foundation for Integrated Health, is now under police investigation for possible fraud, it has become clear how I have missed one of the most shocking aspects of the Smallwood Report.
The report has proved to be very controversial because it was commissioned by Prince Charles and was sent directly to government ministers in an attempt to influence them to fund the provision of pseudo-medical treatments, such as homeopathy, within the NHS. Given, the unique constitutional position of the future monarch, direct lobbying over specific policy issues is seen as being in conflict with the democratic process.
Furthermore, when an academic, Edzard Ernst, criticised the report as being deeply flawed, the Prince’s private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, wrote to the University of Exeter to complain about the whistle-blowing of Ernst. Since then, The Prince’s charity, the Foundation for Integrated Health has stated that Peat wrote to Exeter on their behalf as Peat was their chairman. However, this was not true as the complaint clearly stated that Peat was writing both in his role of “Prince of Wales’ Principal Private Secretary and as Acting Chairman of His Royal Highness’ Foundation for Integrated Health”.
The origin of the report had a peculiar origin too. Originally commissioned by the Foundation for Integrated Health by asking the economist Christopher Smallwood and the research consultancy FreshMinds to take a “fresh and independent look at the role of complementary medicine” in the NHS, it suddenly switched to being directly commissioned by the Prince of Wales himself. And when the Prince took direct responsibility, the funding appeared to switch too.
In a comment on my last blog post, Ernst makes it clear that the money was coming from Dame Shirley Porter and that Smallwood made it clear the Prince did not want it to be known who was behind the financing.
It is not difficult to understand why Prince Charles would not want it to be known that Porter was funding his pet project.
The Smallwood report was published in 2005 at a very ‘sensitive time’ for Shirley Porter. She has been described as “the most corrupt British public figure in living memory”. During the 80’s, Porter was leader of Westminster council where she systematically tried to gerrymander wards to make them more likely to vote Tory by selling off council houses in marginal areas to private tenants. She ousted homeless people out of marginal wards and tried to house them in safe labour wards in buildings unfit for human habitation. She sold of cemeteries for 15p each and organised thugs to jeer at families who protested.
She was ordered to repay £42m for her “blatant and dishonest misuse of public power”. One of the biggest charges ever. As heir to the Tesco empire, one would have thought that such a sum would have been easy for her to find. However, she spent years avoiding repaying the money. She claimed she only had £300,000 in assets and fled to Israel. She told her son that “you’ve inherited my genes and know how to lie.”
It is during this time that she was in self-imposed exile and was claiming near poverty that she was slipping Prince Charles the cash to fund his misconceived exercise into persuading the government to embrace pseudoscience in the NHS. Porter eventually settled with the new Tory administration of Westminster and only paid £12m after the investigators thought she had no more assets. Porter continues to make ‘philanthropic’ donations.
I find it incredible that the heir to the throne was not only speaking to Porter during this period but was also prepared to do business with her. And that business was to indulge in trying to push charlatanism into public health care by producing a report that was clearly misleading in its one-sidedness and bias.
Many questions obviously remain. Given that Ernst knew of the origin of the funding, it would appear likely that other contributors did too. Ernst contribution was not used in the end as his views of the evidence do not fit in with the pre-selected conclusions of the report. But there are many high profile figures from the world of pseudo-medical treatments who took part – people who run his charity, the Foundation for Integrated Health, academics who promote quackery and even people involved in mainstream medical policy.
It is a shabby business. It amazes me how often we see people who believe in magic medicine tend also to make rather bad value judgements in other areas too.