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Doctors support acupuncture

BBC News 25 June, 2000,

Access to acupuncture for NHS patients should be widened, the British Medical Association (BMA) says.

The association is calling for nation-wide guidelines on use of the treatment following research which suggests it is successful in easing back and dental pain, migraine, nausea and vomiting.

It indicates a complete sea change in the way that the medical establishment views complementary therapies

Dr Richard Halvorsen

A survey of GPs showed 58% had arranged complementary or alternative therapies, including acupuncture for their patients.

The BMA has carried out a two year study of acupuncture and other complementary and alternative medicines and says they now need to be integrated into the NHS.

The government’s advisory body the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) should look at all alternative therapies next year, the BMA adds in a report.

Among other proposals in the report ‘Acupuncture: efficacy, safety and practice’ is a national register of all acupuncturists who are medically or non-medically qualified.

The BMA also wants to see regulatory procedures for acupuncturists strengthened and recommends better training for GPs in the benefits of the technique.

Though it found the chances of adverse effects and infection were low but physical injuries could be avoided by better training, particularly on the location and depth of major organs and sterilisation techniques.

Chinese or Western

Acupuncturists follow either the traditional Chinese approach or Western methods and there are a number of different practices and schools of instruction.

Among GPs surveyed, acupuncture was the most common form – others included osteopathy and homeopathy – and it was usually performed in GP surgeries, pain clinics or physiotherapy departments.

Just 5% of cases were referred on to a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner.

Of the GPs asked, 82% said they had “very little” or only “basic” knowledge of complementary medicine, but half wanted to learn.

We need to see more high quality research into the effectiveness of acupuncture

Dr Vivian Nathanson, BMA

The report said: “There is a need for greater consensus on the part of the government, Department of Health, NHS Executive, the medical profession, and acupuncture organisations to provide guidelines and agree how acupuncture and other complementary and alternative medicine services can be integrated into the UK healthcare system.”

Dr Vivian Nathanson, head of health policy at the BMA, said: “We need to see more high quality research into the effectiveness of acupuncture.

“We think NICE is well placed to consider acupuncture.”

Dr Richard Halvorsen, a GP who has practised acupuncture for 15 years, is press officer for the British Medical Acupuncture Society. He said the findings of the report and the survey of doctors was “remarkably positive”.

“It indicates a complete sea change in the way that the medical establishment views complementary therapies,” he said.

He would welcome NICE looking at the therapy as long as it did not treat it as being the same as a drug. “There are some patients who do not react to acupuncture and some do.”

Greater use of acupuncture would save the NHS millions of pounds each year, he said.

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