History of the RCCM


Thirty-five years ago, the term ‘complementary’ started to be used to describe the disparate range of therapeutic systems that were outside of the mainstream medical services.  They were known collectively by a variety of names such as fringe medicine, alternative medicine, natural therapeutics, or natural medicine, based on the unifying philosophy of facilitating and supporting the self-healing drive to homoeostasis of the human body.  Complementary was the term coined by Stephen Fulder in an attempt to overcome the divisive implications of ‘conventional’ versus ‘alternative’.  He was the co-author, with Robin Munro a landmark survey of  Complementary Medicine in the UK  (Fulder & Monro 1981) that was supported by the privately-funded Threshold Foundation.

The various treatments and approaches to health such healing, hypnotherapy, osteopathy, homeopathy and acupuncture had been around for a very long time; some, such as acupuncture and ayurvedic medicine, originating in the Far East and Orient;  others, such as naturopathy, homoeopathy, and osteopathy growing out of European and American traditions. It was clear from the Threshold Survey that these systems of treatment were well-established and fulfilled a need that could not be met by the overburdened conventional medical systems. At a meeting to launch the publication of the survey, held at the Charing Cross Hospital through the support of its chief cardiologist, Dr Peter Nixon, Fulder together with Harold Wicks, Administrative Director of the Threshold Foundation, conceived the idea of a permanent research organisation for complementary medicine. Also at this meeting was Dr Richard Tonkin, Honorary Consulting Physician to Westminster Hospital Medical School, who had worked in China and been impressed by traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. At the prompting of his wife, Duthy, Dr Tonkin discussed this with Sir Douglas Black, then President of the Royal College of Physicians, who recommended that he should go ahead and set up an equivalent to the Medical Research Council that could address the specific research needs of these therapies. 

After a series of informal meetings to consider suitable candidates, a Board of Trustees was selected and the Research Council for Complementary Medicine was created in 1983.  In the ensuing months more council members were recruited, providing not only conventional scientific and medical expertise - with people from education, research, electrical engineering, and the arts - but representatives of the six main complementary medical therapeutic disciplines. (See Council Members, 1986)

The intention of the founders was to encourage and facilitate research into complementary and alternative medicine systems and to ensure the results were as widely disseminated as possible.  These objectives were encapsulated in the RCCM’s strapline:  Developing the evidence base for complementary medicine.

After a series of internal seminars on research methodology, the RCCM set out to fulfil its objectives with the limited funds it had at its disposal.  In 1985 the first Research Methodology Conference, chaired by Professor Michael Marmot, was held at the British School of Osteopathy and was attended by 120 delegates.  In the same year, a Research Methodology Fellowship, funded jointly with the Medical Research Council was established at Glasgow University.  This generated a landmark study in the management of hay fever using a homoeopathic preparation of mixed grass pollens and published in The Lancet (Taylor Reilly, D. 1986).

The Council also contracted Professor Michael Ginsburg to encourage and assist with the development of CAM research and facilitate this within training colleges.  That same year Complementary Medical Research, the first journal devoted exclusively to CAM research, was launched in conjunction with the British Library under the editorship of Dr George Lewith.  This later became Complementary Therapies in Medicine published by Churchill Livingstone.

Meanwhile, further methodology workshops and conferences, examining methods of enquiry and small-scale research projects that CAM practitioners could conduct in their own clinics, were held in London and Oxford.  The First Rung Research Awards, were established to encourage student researchers and prompted several projects but, sadly, foundered for lack of financial support.

In spite of ongoing financial restraints the RCCM was able to establish a Centralised Information Service for Complementary Medicine (CISCOM) database, the first resource of its kind, which later participated in the Cochrane Collaboration’s CAM sector.

Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s the RCCM became increasingly involved in joint initiatives and conferences examining issues around integrated practice.  RCCM trustees, for example, helped to plan and participated in a series of colloquia held at the Royal Society of Medicine on the initiatives of the Prince of Wales and the then President of RSM, Sir James Watt.  Prince Charles himself attended several of these landmark events (Watt J. 1988).  The RCCM was also invited to give verbal and written evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology’s enquiry into complementary and alternative medicine, which published its report in 2000 (House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, 2000)

It had long been evident that CAM systems were distinguished by more than their position outside the mainstream of medicine; they each have their foundations in distinctive principles and philosophies. The trustees therefore initiated the Principles Project to examine these and their relevance, culminating in a seminar held at Exeter University in 2005.

In the early 21st Century the RCCM has scaled down from the large council and offices with permanent staff and is now run by a dedicated Board of Trustees.  Under the chairmanship of Professor Nicola Robinson (Professor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Integrated Health at London South Bank University), the emphasis has shifted from funding projects and educational activities to co-ordinating and mapping, through the CAM Researcher Network, the many projects now being undertaken in schools of CAM and universities.

Steered by a number of eminent Presidents, the RCCM developed and around 2005 was commissioned to undertake and completed some very large projects in partnership with universities, including the  major three year CAMEOL project for the Department of Health to assess CAM interventions in NHS priority areas, by detailed review and critical appraisal of published research; and creation of  a unique Thesaurus of CAM terms. Thirdly, the CAMRN network for researchers was founded and  continues to this day.

The RCCM continues to pursue its objectives in a changing environment for CAM research and education and can claim some credit for the greater awareness of the role that natural therapies can play in mitigating the burden of ill health and disease.


Created on8 November, 2015 - 18:41