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Complementary medicine saves NHS money

When, in 1992, Dr. Roy Welford and colleagues at The Health Centre in Glastonbury introduced a Complementary Health Service, his patients were delighted to have the opportunity of being referred to one of five therapies (osteopathy, acupuncture, herbalism, massage or homoeopathy) funded by the National Health Service.

Now the practice’s doctors are delighted too. 85% of the patients referred experienced improvements in their health and subsequently visited their doctor less often and required fewer prescriptions. The savings to the practice were more than sufficient to pay for the therapies.

The need for secondary referrals (e.g. for physiotherapy at a nearby hospital) were also reduced, saving NHS costs. The original grant from the Somerset Health Authority has now been replaced by funding from a practice-based charitable trust. It is hoped that, once these and results from other similar experiments have been evaluated, the NHS will make a variety of complementary therapies generally available.


(7110) Dr. Roy Welford. Positive News


GPs more open to alternatives

In 2001 a postal survey [1] found that complementary therapies and therapists were gaining acceptance within the NHS. Just over a third of surgeries had prescribed a patient a complementary therapy on the National Health Service (NHS). A quarter had referred a patient to a complementary therapist. Given that numerous studies have shown that referring patients for complementary therapies is extremely cost-effective, the next logical step would be the funding of new or existing complementary multi-therapy clinics.

One successful example is the Gateway Clinic, which offers NHS-funded acupuncture and Chinese medicine services to GP practices in the boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark. Practising situated elsewhere may refer patients to the clinic, but the Primary Care Trust they work within must give permission and foot the bill. Now housed within Lambeth Hospital, it receives an NHS grant from Lambeth Primary Care Trust of £67,000 a year with a further £27,000 from HIV/AIDS organisations.

So far it has received referrals from 175 GPs and gives an average 20,000 treatments a year. Given the low NHS grant, this impressive supply is only made possible by 16 volunteer acupuncturists.

Clinic manager Dominique Joiret explains: "The main reason we are still around after 15 years is because we take on patients who continually fill up (GP) waiting rooms - long-term chronically ill patients. Once GPs realised ... they needed the different approach (we offer) the clinic never stopped growing."

{1} Thomas,KJ. British Journal of General Practitioners 2001;51:25-30

(11841) Nick Anderson. Green Health Watch