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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 August 2005, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Alternative medicine access call
Herbal medicines
Complementary medicine is expected to become more popular
Everyone should have access to alternative medicine on the NHS, a leading patients' group says.

The Patients Association has called for all GPs to provide patients with the choice of using complementary medicine where it had been proven to work.

Provision is patchy currently with well under a half of family doctors providing some sort of access to alternative providers.

But doctor representatives warned there needed to be better regulation.

A fifth of adults in the UK are estimated to have used some form of complementary medicine from acupuncture and herbal medicine to homeopathy.

But many paid for it at private clinics. Britons spend 130m a year on alternative therapies, but that is expected to rise to 200m over the next four years.

We have to move away from the pill for every ill culture
Simon Williams, of the Patients Association

Access through the NHS varies from area to area. Some GPs employ their own complementary medicine practitioners, or have expertise themselves, while some primary care trusts have contracts with providers which local family doctors can refer patients to.

But Simon Williams, director of policy at the Patients Association, said it must become more widespread.

"We would like to see all GPs in a position to refer patients on to an complementary medicine expert.

"We have to move away from the pill for every ill culture. It is not always the answer.


"The drive at the moment is to give patients choice, so why shouldn't they have choice over alternative medicines.

"However, I would add that we need to be sure the therapy works, not all alternative medicine is proven."

The call comes as Prince Charles Foundation for Integrated Health has launched a scheme to sign up 150 "associate" GP members to promote complementary medicine.

Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of GPs' body NHS Alliance and trustee for the foundation, said: "GPs are beginning to become more open to alternative medicines, but it is still a postcode lottery at the moment.

"I think it is right that all patients should have access. If something works why shouldn't it be provided?

"Not every alternative medicine out there has a proven track record, but I think we can be pretty comfortable about the mainstream."

He said these included things such as homeopathy, herbalism and acupuncture."

But the British Medical Association said while access should be more "equitable", there needed to be better regulation.

"There are some unscrupulous practitioners out there, and very few therapies are regulated, so it is clear more needs to be done.

"It also depends on what evidence there is that it works. You cannot compel GPs to refer patients. There are scarce resources."

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