Homeopathy and acupuncture backed for NHS funding
By Gareth Iacobucci
Homeopathy, acupuncture and reflexology are among a range of complementary and alternative therapies a new trial concludes should be provided on the NHS.
The major new Government-funded study found there would be a range of benefits to patients in providing access to complementary and alternative medicine, and that the treatments could even save the health service money.
As many as 81% of patients receiving the treatments on referral from their GP reported improvements in their physical health, and 79% in their mental health.
The study, carried out in Northern Ireland and commissioned by the province's Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, found 84% of patients directly linked improvements in health to the therapies they received.
Treatments administered after referral from local GPs included acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, osteopathy, reflexology and aromatherapy.
In 65% of cases, GPs reported a health improvement in patients, while half said they prescribing less medication during the course of the trial, and that their patients needed less frequent referral to hospital.
More than 700 patients from different demographic groups were referred to therapies for musculoskeletal or mental health conditions through nine GP practices in Belfast and Londonderry.
The researchers concluded: ‘Not only has this project documented significant health gains, but also the potential economic savings likely to accrue from a reduction in patient use of primary and other health care services, a reduction in prescribing levels and reduced absenteeism from work.
‘It is recommended that DHSSPS and the project partners examine ways of integrating complementary and alternative medicine within primary care.'
Dr Anne McCloskey, a GP in Londonderry whose practice took part in the pilot, said the scheme had been ‘brilliant' for patients, but should have gone on for longer.
She said: ‘Overall it was very positive. Our patients loved them, but the scheme wasn't big enough to prove definite benefits. It should have gone on for longer.'
Dr Michael Dixon, medical director of the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health and a GP in Cullompton, Devon, said the study was a big breakthrough for complimentary medicine.
‘Patients have clearly benefited – and so has the health service,' he said. ‘This trial shows an integrated approach is practical and works in well in NHS primary care.'
The boost for supporters of complementary therapy comes despite several recent studies casting doubt on the effectiveness of treatments.
A report published last week by the Arthritis Research Campaign found most complementary medicines were ineffective, while researchers in the BMJ recently claimed there was little difference between real and ‘sham' acupuncture.
• 81% of patients reported improvement in their physical health, 79% in their mental health.
• 84% of patients directly linked improvements in their health and wellbeing to the complementary treatment.
• 62% of patients were suffering less pain, with 55% said they had been able to reduce their use of painkillers.
• 64% of patients in employment said they took less time off work after treatment.
• Half of GPs reported prescribing less medication for chronic or acute patients during the trial.
• In 65% of cases, GPs reported a health improvement.
Source: Evaluation of Government-funded pilot project in Northern Ireland, carried out by Social & Market Research (SMR)