Chinese Medicine’s journey to the UK: new documentary

Journey to the West traces Chinese Medicine’s journey to the UK and explores the challenges of recognition where the dominant culture is against you. This ground-breaking documentary, produced by The TCM Development Trust and directed by Zoe Coldham, introduces Chinese Medicine’s understanding of health and illness as a platform from which to explore the ‘Catch 22’ that surrounds the profession’s struggle for acceptance.

Status as part of UK healthcare can only be gained through evidence-based medicine, but those methods of research are designed to serve Western constructs of medicine and science, not a medical system from a different world view.

The story of Chinese Medicine in the UK is told by leading members of the profession. Jasmine Uddin, former chair of the British Acupuncture Council (above, right), Felicity Moir (above, second from right), founder of The London School of Acupuncture, and Volker Scheid, Professor of East Asian Medicines, take us through a period of expansion in the ‘80s and ‘90s, which saw degree status for courses, attempts to gain Statutory Regulation, and some break-throughs in research that were acceptable to the Western Scientific community.

Interwoven with this is the story of The Gateway Clinic, currently the only Chinese Medicine acupuncture clinic embedded in a hospital in the UK. Dominique Joire, former Director of The Gateway Clinic and Ian Govendir, an AIDs patient and survivor, recount a frightening period in the early ‘90s, when biomedicine was unable to provide treatment for a disease they didn’t understand. Where Western medicine is perplexed, Chinese medicine provides a lifeline and The Gateway gains wide recognition due to its success in supporting complex cases.  However, its survival hangs on research outcomes which inform the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.

Mike Cummings, Medical Director at the British Medical Acupuncture Society, and Mark Bovey, former head of Research at the British Acupuncture Council, take up the story of research. They explain the issues in applying research methods that are designed to test drugs to Acupuncture. Mike discusses how interpretations of research have worked against acupuncture when the comparison has been made against the results of sham treatments rather than to normal care. However, there is some hope on the horizon, with the recent NICE decision in favour of acupuncture for chronic pain.

Today, in China, East Asia and other Western countries, Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine complement one another. However, in the UK, it faces high levels of prejudice, not only due to a sceptical science lobby, but also from a lack of cultural understanding, reinforced by a generally negative regard for the current Chinese Government.

Mass media continue to perpetuate the myths that Chinese Medicine uses ingredients such as tiger bone and rhino horn, even though these products are not part of the modern Chinese Medicine pharmacopoeia. This negative press has contributed to the closure of each of the university-based acupuncture courses, and so avenues to research are diminishing, even though high-quality research is essential to acceptance and recognition.

Despite a series of roadblocks Chinese Medicine acupuncturists continue to practise, and the general public continue to seek out their treatments. It is clear that there is merit in this medicine that has withstood the test of time. What then will the future hold?

Following a private screening for leading members of the acupuncture profession, Zoe is now hoping to share this very important story, increasing awareness, at film festivals towards the end of this year.

Follow the documentary on Instagram

Journey to The West Trailer from Zoe Coldham on Vimeo.