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Merging ancient and modern: Integrative Health

Written by  Dr. Toh Wong and Dr. Akthar
Merging ancient and modern: Integrative Health It's all integrating (Pexels, Rijan Hamidovic)

Specialist Feature

What do the body's healing system, the mind-body connection, ancient healing, prevention, meditation, self care, yoga, empowered patients, lifestyle medicine, the microbiome, breathwork, hypnosis (etc, etc, etc)..... AND conventional healthcare all have to do with each other? Everything, say the creators of the UK’s Integrative Health Convention. Health is changing, and it is time for a new approach, say Dr. Wong and Dr. Akhtar. By facilitating dialogue between experts with different takes on health we can all benefit, they say. This is Part 1 of their story.


Integrative health is taking place in medical practices in the UK and around the world, and the Integrative Health Convention is where leading, pioneering doctors and therapists in traditional as well as complementary medicine come together. After all, say Dr. Toh Wong and Dr. Naveed Akhtar: Tomorrow’s world is an integral world.

Integrative healthcare means incorporating conventional, complementary health, and self-care approaches to enhance patient outcomes, and together, they are aiming to progress the dialogue between medicine and complementary medicine with its increasing social and behavioural science base. Yet keeping at the centre of it, is the patient and their holistic and individual care.

In Part 1 of this special essay for Breaking Perspectives, Dr. Toh Wong and Dr. Naveed Akhtar will help us discover the background and direction of integrative health and its premier convention in the UK.


How it all began

In 2018, the first Integrative Health Convention was launched in the United Kingdom (UK) in London. As General Practitioners (GPs), we could see a changing tide of health practice and behaviour. It was around the time that acupuncture was recommended for low back pain by the American College of Physicians (ACP). There was also the unexpected suggestion of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider complementary medical techniques for chronic pain management − even before pharmaceutical management.

As co-organisers of the convention and practising as National Health Service (NHS) GPs in the UK, we have both had personal experience with using multiple modalities considered 'complementary' in our practices. This has included the use of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), hypnosis, and acupuncture integrated with our conventional medical practice.

A touch of spiritualism: Anthony Abbagnano

We wanted to introduce a new generation of doctors and the UK to the concepts of Integral Health; incorporating conventional, complementary health and self-care approaches to enhance patient outcomes. The aspiration was to create a platform where doctors and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) practitioners could learn, share and connect. Thus was born the Integrative Health Convention − the UK’s premiere annual conference on integrative health approaches for doctors, therapists, and the public.

The first convention featured 36 different fields of health and healing from Ayurveda [Editor: Ayurveda is known as one of the world's oldest holistic (“whole-body”) healing systems] to acupuncture, from yoga to Qi Gong, and from hypnosis to homoeopathy.

This was held in partnership with the College of Medicine and Integrated Health. They are longstanding advocates for the integration of complementary therapies into routine clinical care. They were also the organisers of the Food on Prescription Conference. In addition, they were pioneers of Social Prescribing [Editor: When primary care professionals refer patients to local, non-clinical services to support their health and wellbeing.]

Dr. Wong himself describes a profound experience, with what can only be called a miraculous improvement of a non-healing dense Bell’s palsy (facial paralysis). It was done under hypnosis and with some other non-conventional healing techniques and it had caused me to question all that I knew about conventional medicine, which had told me that nothing else could be done. Learning these simple techniques by enlightened teachers  was the focus of the Integrative Health Convention: Many schools of health and healing sharing their knowledge with interested individuals.

“This was the focus of the Integrative Health Convention: Many schools of health and healing sharing their knowledge with interested individuals"

Breathwork: Prevention and wellbeing (Pexels, PNW Production)

The changing health landscape

We have made great strides in global health over the last 40 years. We have been so successful since, that we have seen life-expectancy in this time increase by ten years, and childhood mortality under five years reduce by two-thirds*.

Today, we face different challenges. It is imperative we tackle chronic diseases that have become most of the focus of ill-health today. To refocus our efforts on the future of healthcare, the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that we must address the underlying determinants of health and emphasise population-level services that prevent illness and promote well-being.

It will be cheaper and simpler in the long run if we look after ourselves and not get ill in the first place. The key to doing this is to empower people and communities. Involving them in the future of their health is essential in increasing patient satisfaction and ultimately in improving health outcomes.

Already we see the tide turning with conventional medicine practitioners recommending reduced prescriptions of some oral pain relief. They have also started recommending antibiotic stewardship and reduced reliance and emphasis on drugs that have poor long-term survival data.

“It will be cheaper and simpler in the long run if we look after ourselves and not even get ill in the first place"

Becoming part of the conversation

Lately, there has been a push towards healthier lifestyles, and increased awareness by the public of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The increased uptake and satisfaction with the natural, and often ancient and more traditional approaches of CAM means that the providers of these services should be involved in a primary care health system that will prove to be widely accepted and effective for people.

Thus, the Integrative Health Convention seeks to provide a platform, with which the newly-formed Integrated Medical Alliance (IMA) made up of individuals and bodies of complementary health professionals, can become part of the conversation aiming for better health outcomes for all.

“There has been a push towards healthier lifestyles; and the natural and often ancient and more traditional approaches of Complementary and Alternative Medicine CAM"

Bringing it all together: A healthy mix of community, dance, nature, music? (Pexels, Jackson David)

The development of the convention

With the advent of social media and mainstream media, the public have increasingly been exposed to evidence-informed effective diets and behavioural approaches, as well as complementary therapies for self-care.

In recent years, there has been more publicity on the microbiome, with immense interest at the Integrative Health Conventions held. Breathwork [Editor: Breathwork, or breathing exercises or techniques, is often used by people to improve mental, physical, and spiritual well-being] with advocates such as Wim Hof  was another popular modality attended at the convention, taught by Anthony Abbagnano.

Meditation and yoga, which have both seen amazing rises in popularity with the proliferation of apps like Headspace or Calm, also generate a constant interest at the annual health conference.

At the Integrative Health Convention, one of our most popular seminars delivered by Dr. Akhtar is on the use of behavioural techniques and advanced communication skills, using the principles of hypnosis and suggestion with simple evidence-informed hacks that are easily applicable to any health consultation. 

One of our most popular seminars at the Integrative Health Convention is by Dr. Akhtar on the use of behavioural techniques and advanced communication skills. Using the principles of hypnosis and suggestion with simple evidence-informed hacks are easily applicable to any health consultation.  

Longevity and healthy ageing (Pexels, Edu Carvalho)

The future

What has become clear at the convention is a hunger for a different way of doing things, and looking at problems with an increasing disillusionment of conventional medicine for many chronic conditions.

Personally, we feel that lifestyle medicine (featured at the Integrative Health Convention 2022), which is on the rise, should focus on longevity. It should also look at slowing ageing through an understanding of the science that will reduce some of the adverse outcomes from ageing.

In brief they may include fasting diets, exercise, achieving ideal muscle mass, and meditation among some of the simple techniques you can implement today. In the future, we see our convention introducing more of these concepts.

“What has become clear at the convention, is a hunger for a different way of doing things" 

* World Health Organization & United Nations Children's Fund (‎UNICEF)‎. (‎2018)‎. A vision for primary health care in the 21st century: towards universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. World Health Organization. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

Next time: The mind-body connection, the ability to look at challenges in life as an opportunity to develop, self care, personalised approaches, the body’s innate ability to heal are all changing the health care landscape. In part 2 we will dig a little deeper and look at some of the biggest changes when it comes to our understanding of health.

Integrative Health Convention, 2019

Integrative Health Convention

Integrative health is taking place in medical practices in the UK and around the world, and the Integrative Health Convention is where leading, pioneering doctors and therapists in traditional as well as complementary medicine come together.  It is aimed at a mix of health practitioners. From medical doctors and nurses to osteopaths; from naturopaths and acupuncturists to nutritionists. Midwives, dentists, herbalists, massage therapists; they can all be found at the Integrative Health Convention, which is the largest of its kind in the UK. The convention believes in creating a community of like-minded individuals who are open and willing to learn from each other and develop themselves, so that they possess the most effective skills from the most successful health practices available at this time.  The Integrative Health Convention was created by Dr. Toh Wong and Dr. Naveed Akhtar. Together they created Neurolinguistic Healthcare, in which they both train GPs, psychologists, anaesthetists and other specialists as well as complementary therapists.  They also co-authored Chapter 9, How Complementary and Conventional medicine can work together, of the College of Medicine & Integrated Health’s Manifesto Hope for the Future document, published in 2021. 


About the authors:

Specialist in individualised care: Dr Toh Wong

Dr. Toh Wong

Dr. Toh Wong MBChB (Hons) MRCGP, LMCC, DCH, DRCOG, PGCCE is a full-time NHS GP and one of the UK’s leading doctors in Integrative Health. He has over 12 years of experience in the fields of acupuncture, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and hypnosis, as well as other systems of health and healing. Dr. Wong specialises in providing individualised care by integrating his knowledge of conventional medicine, complementary therapies, and self-care. He is a GP Trainer and trains junior doctors and medical students regularly. He is also a NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) and hypnosis trainer, and presents these techniques and promotes an integrative health approach nationally and internationally.
Master NLP training: Dr. Naveed Akhtar  

Dr. Naveed Akhtar

Dr. Naveed Akhtar MB BS, BSc (Hons), MRCS, MRCGP, DFSRH is a Principal GP with special interests in minor surgery, musculoskeletal medicine and mental health. He is a Master NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) trainer, clinical hypnotherapist and a medical acupuncturist. Since 2008, Dr. Akhtar has been successfully using NLP with his patients. His success rate skyrocketed when he combined his skills with the principles of hypnosis, and together with Dr. Toh Wong they have developed a unique approach to effectively treating patients within a standard 10 minute consultation.

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Brand new, international Life Mindstyle magazine, reflecting a variety of perspectives in different aspects of our daily lives. Are our perspectives our own? Are they good for us, for others, for the world? They might be, they might not be. Either way, wouldn't it be good to know? Be curious and see where it may take you. 

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