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Half of GPs offering alternative therapies

Alternative therapies are now part of the mainstream of primary care with over half of GPs using them in their practice, new research reveals.

The survey of 200 GPs found 56% either provide or recommend alternative therapies for conditions varying from chronic pain to dizziness and mobility disorders.

Acupuncture was the most popular alternative therapy among GPs, with 40% saying they referred for it. Homeopathic remedies were used by 11% of GPs and both holistic and ayurvedic medicine by 3.5%.

Study leader Dr Sunil Vyas, an ENT registrar at Glan Clwyd Hospital in North Wales admitted to being ‘surprised' by his results.

‘I thought it would be a small number, because of the emphasis on traditional medicine,' he said.

Of those who used alternative medicines, 16% said they would consider using both in combination with conventional therapies.

Forty per cent of those who used complementary therapies used them for chronic pain – such as lower back and migraine pain.

The next most common in-dication – accounting for 34% of respondents - was for mobility disorders, including rehabilitation after accidents or cerebrovascular accidents.

A fifth recommended alter-native therapies for patients complaining of dizziness.

Dr Graham Archard, a GP in Dorset and vice-chair of the RCGP, said the college supported any therapy with an evidence base and that data on some alternative therapies was becoming available.

He said: ‘If it is something unpleasant, but not necessarily life-threatening, let's say things like back pain or irritable bowel, then I think there is no problem in using complementary therapies, if that is what patients would like to do.'

Dr Gareth Hayes, a GP in Cardiff, said: ‘I am intellectually deeply sceptical about the intrinsic value of these treatments but you can't get away from the half-hour or hour-long appointment that they are given, something that general practice generally doesn't offer.'

The research was presented at the World Organization of Family Doctors meeting in Paris earlier in the month.

Do you recommend complementary therapies?

Dr Richard Halvorsen, a GP in London who performs acupuncture and homeopathy at his surgery

‘Patients are telling us that they often work. Whether that is just their imaginings or not, for them it is really working and that's the important thing.'

Dr Lis Rodgers, a GP in Doncaster

‘We struggle with alternative therapies, because the evidence base is never there and doctors are always looking for the gold-standard evidence base.'

Dr Kailash Chand, a GP in Ashton-under-Lyne and a trained acupuncturist

‘You could keep on giving pills, pills, pills but you have got to look into complementary therapies. You need to ensure that no harm is done, but they can have definite benefit.'

Alternative remedies

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