Healthcare the herbal way

Hannah Charman

Hannah Charman

Hannah Charman is founder of Panacea Holistic Health and we are delighted to welcome her to the3rdi.co.uk.

Hannah says, “Panacea Holistic Health is a new way of looking at your health. The name ‘Panacea’ was chosen because Panacea was the greek goddess of healing, well versed in the practice of Herbal Medicine, and because nowadays ‘Panacea’ is used to describe a ‘cure all’.

Whilst Herbalists can’t claim to ‘cure’, many of our patients make a far better recovery than they ever expected when they try herbal treatment.

The holistic approach I use enables patients to make informed decisions about their health based on a combination ancient knowledge and the latest research.”

When was the last time you felt completely well?. It’s surprising how many people can’t remember, but with increasing pressures on our time from commitments at work and home, it’s not surprising that we forget to take care of ourselves. That is until we get noticeably ill and have to do something about it, at which point a lot of people would head straight for their GP. Quite often we walk in to find a tired, stressed looking Doctor, with pen poised over the prescription pad, visibly keen to see us out the door and move onto the next of a long string of patients. It’s not surprising – due to time constraints most GP’s are only given around seven minutes to see each patient, which would be fine for an ingrowing toenail or a sprained ankle. But for those who’ve become unwell over a period of time, it’s just not going to do the trick.

There is another way though. Instead of the tired, stressed, GP, imagine talking to someone who truly loves their job and can’t wait to talk to you. To them you’ll be fascinating, and with at least an hour for your first consultation, there’s plenty of time for you to explain what’s been going on. They’ve trained at University for at least three years, and will gladly spend time researching your state of health with and without you in the consultation room. That’s what happens when you see a Medical Herbalist.

As a Medical Herbalist I use a very different approach to a GP in that I concentrate on you as a whole person rather than the individual symptoms you describe. For example, if you’re feeling unwell but the blood tests, scans etc can’t find anything wrong, you may well be told by a GP that there’s nothing wrong with you. To a Herbalist though, if you say there’s a problem, there is one, regardless of what the tests say, and we’re trained find it. Whereas a GP will see it as their responsibility to take care of your health, by seeing a Herbalist you’re empowered to help yourself, and we take more of a supporting role by giving advice and selecting the herbs that will benefit you most. Herbal medicine is an art as well as a science, where the right herb is chosen for the right person at the right time, opening up a new world of potential for improvement. Often patients actually start to enjoy the process of realising how their lifestyle has had a detrimental effect upon their health, and making positive changes to aid their recovery. Even if a patient is at the very end stages of life, simple treatments like a hand massage with essential oils can help them relax and feel more comfortable. In other words, wherever you are and whatever your situation, there’s always something that can be done with herbs.

That’s not to say that if you come across someone having a heart attack you don’t get them straight to the nearest A&E. Of course there are times when Doctors come into their own, tired and stressed as they may be, and herbs are definitely not the treatment of choice. As a rough rule of thumb though, patients with long term illnesses, which incidentally make up most of the NHS work load, will usually see a significant improvement whilst under the care of a Medical Herbalist. Our holistic approach is really versatile and particularly useful for treating conditions such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which tend not to respond so well to conventional treatment. Likewise where a patient can’t take their usual medication, eg, during pregnancy, a Herbalist may well be able to offer a safe, effective alternative.

A first consultation with a Medical Herbalist will usually take at least an hour, where they’ll ask you a number of questions and maybe do a quick examination. Our aim is to get a detailed picture of your current state of health, as often logical patterns can be found behind most, if not all, of a patient’s symptoms. For example, if your liver was not functioning as well as it might it wouldn’t necessarily show up on blood tests, but with herbal treatment all sorts of health problems like migraines, indigestion and menstrual disorders might improve.

In any case, a Herbalist will first look to rule out the possibility of any serious illness, and may recommend that you ask your GP for some medical tests. If you’re already taking medication you’d be asked to continue as usual, although sometimes it’s possible to gradually get your dosages reduced as the herbs do their good work. Everything discussed between you and your Herbalist is kept confidential, and if they belong to a self governing body such as the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH), they will be insured and bound to a strict code of ethics.

Your Herbalist will explain what they think is going on, and if necessary come up with a manageable treatment plan where they may suggest simple changes to diet or lifestyle. They’ll also dispense you some medicine which aims to work on the underlying causes of whatever’s going on. Over time your prescription will need to change as you respond to the medicine, but the idea is only to continue taking herbs until you no longer need them. Forms of medicine vary between Herbalists and might include tinctures (alcoholic preparations), teas, creams, ointments or capsules.

You may have seen the press coverage lately that after twenty years of debate, on April 1st it was announced that Medical Herbalists are to become regulated. Currently anyone can work as a Herbalist, whether or not they’re trained, insured, or abide by any code of ethics. The NIMH is self regulating and several years ago self imposed a ban on its members using Aristolochia, the herb responsible for recently causing kidney failure in the patient of a Chinese Herbalist.

Most NIMH members support the idea of our profession being state regulated as it will help ensure a consistently safe, high standard of patient care and hopefully give us the recognition we deserve within the medical profession. However, the way in which we are to be regulated still hangs in the balance as we wait for decisions from a new government, and the body assigned to oversee regulation doesn’t have the infrastructure or legal power to get us a statutory ‘stamp of approval’. What does all this mean to you?. Well, unless Herbalists are regulated by the government, we will not qualify as ‘authorised health professionals’ under EU law, and may well be restricted in terms of what we can supply you as medicines.

Many of the herbs we can currently give our patients will become unavailable due to new laws restricting sale of herbal medicines, and we’re concerned that over time it will become virtually impossible to continue working legally. Bearing in mind that we offer an invaluable natural health service which is safe and affordable, the demise of western Medical Herbalists would be a real tragedy. We’ve stood the test of time and if you look after us, and we’ll look after you for many generations to come.

To find your nearest NIMH herbalist, go to www.nimh.org.uk

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