Treatment on the NHS

There’s a lot of it about, if you know where to look. Not that long ago, the idea that the NHS might provide ‘alternative’ therapies would have been laughed at. Now, however, an increasing number of treatments are provided in hospitals and GP surgeries in the UK.

Years ago, if you mentioned alternative therapies to your GP all you would have received was a sympathetic ‘there, there’ smile. After all, as far as they were concerned, alternative therapists weren’t ‘real doctors’; their beliefs were perceived as quackery and their practices as manipulative and money-grabbing.

The term ‘alternative’ emphasised the fact that although two options existed – conventional and alternative – patients received one or the other. ‘Alternative’ has now largely been replaced by the term ‘complementary’, demonstrating how one works alongside the other. To a large degree, things have even moved one step further with the introduction of the term ‘integrated medicine’, whereby all therapies – conventional and complementary – are part of the one process; that is, patient care.

It’s now common for hospital clinics to offer some form of complementary therapy. Acupuncture, for example, has long been used in pain clinics, aromatherapy and massage are commonly used in cancer care, and osteopathy and chiropractic are recognised by conventional medical colleges as being beneficial treatments for back pain, alongside physiotherapy and heat treatment.

Finding complementary therapies at your doctor’s surgery is no longer unusual either. Many GPs have trained to provide acupuncture, homeopathy and osteopathy, for example, or have incorporated the services of complementary therapists in their practices.

In fact, the NHS as a whole is keen to provide its patients with complementary therapies where they’re thought to be appropriate and beneficial. There’s a drive to make such treatments more widely available on the NHS, whether in hospitals, community clinics or GP surgeries. At present, however, therapies aren’t universally available across the UK and where they are, provision may be limited. If you’re interested in receiving complementary medicine on the NHS, the best thing to do is ask your GP whether it’s available in the area and if so, where.

The Prince of Wales’s Foundation for Integrated Health has a initiative that aims to integrate complementary medicine services in NHS clinics and hospitals. You can find more information at www.fihealth.org.uk.

The growing amount of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of complementary therapies in the treatment of certain medical conditions has helped to smooth the path of acceptance among even the most difficult-to-convince conventionally trained doctors. Moreover, complementary practitioners have recognised the importance of demonstrating that they’re trained, qualified and insured should problems arise. This brings reassurance and confidence not only to patients but also to the NHS, which is becoming increasingly enthusiastic about responding to the wishes of patients and making complementary medicine more readily available.