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grant from the Somerset Health Authority has now been replaced
by funding from a practice-based charitable trust.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
In 2001 a postal survey  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
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."