Select Committee on Science and Technology Sixth Report


Current Patterns of Delivery

9.1 The majority of CAM is practised in the private sector. It is often accessed without referral from a GP, by patients who have read about treatments or have been told by friends of a certain practitioner, and who contact that practitioner directly and pay out of their own pocket. FIM confirmed that this was a common method of accessing CAM. They told us that "…a significant amount of complementary therapy is bought privately by people who can afford to buy it"( Q 109).

9.2 However CAM is also available on the NHS, and has been since its inception. The Department of Health commissioned an independent study in 1995 to help develop a picture of CAM access via general practice[53]. This study reported that 40% of GP partnerships in England provide access to CAM for NHS patients. But evidence shows that this provision is very patchy - whether patients have NHS access to CAM is dependent on the attitude of their particular PCG or Primary Care Trust (PCT)[54] (Q 109). FIM told us: "The Foundation's integrated health awards identified 80 good examples of integration both with primary and hospital services. It demonstrated that provision is increasingly becoming available through the NHS but access to such services is patchy" (P 30).

9.3 The NHS Confederation echoed these sentiments: They told that they support moves towards integration and that "This is a process that is already happening and the boundaries of what is considered "conventional" and "complementary" are constantly shifting (acupuncture in pain clinics, for example). Much of its foothold is, however, tenuous"(P 145).

9.4 The reaction of many of our witnesses to the patchiness of CAM provision on the NHS mirrors that which has been stimulated in the general public by "post-code prescribing". FIM told us "…if it is available for some people in the NHS, it should be available for all people through the NHS" (Q 111).

Methods of Delivery

9.5 Provision of CAM outside the NHS can be offered through many different mechanisms, including: access through health clubs and beauty parlours, over-the-counter self-medication; directly approaching and paying an independent CAM practitioner; self-referral to a specialist centre; and obtaining a GP referral to an independent CAM practitioner or specialist centre, whether paid for directly or through health insurance.

9.6 Unlike private CAM delivery, all NHS CAM has to be accessed through a GP or another member of the primary healthcare team. These methods for NHS referrals are outlined in Box 12. Currently most NHS CAM is delivered within primary care, although in some cases CAM is now part of secondary care (see paras 9.15-9.20)

9.7 The Department of Health's evidence to us was keen to emphasise that CAM practitioners are also welcome to try to play a role in supporting community health initiatives such as their Healthy Workplace Initiative, the Healthy Living Centres and Healthy Schools projects.

Box 12
Methods of Delivery Within the NHS


GENERAL PRACTITIONER (or other member of primary care team)
may provide CAM treatment themselves if trained; or
 refer to
    (a)  A member of an on-site multi-disciplinary team (as in the Marylebone Health Centre)
    (b)  A specialist CAM centre within an NHS Acute Trust (e.g. London Homeopathic Hospital)
    (c)  A specialist CAM centre contracted by the District Health Authority (e.g. Centre for Complementary Health Studies in Southampton)
    (d)  An individual, off-site, CAM practitioner contracted by the Primary Care Group or Primary Care Trust
    (e)  A secondary care service within the NHS Acute Trust that uses CAM (as in some physiotherapy and orthopaedic clinics)
    (f)  If patient is terminally ill refer to a palliative care unit which provides CAM
    (g)  Take advantage of District Health Authority Initiatives that may be piloting CAM projects.
NB: A secondary or tertiary care specialist could also make these referrals.

Integrated Healthcare

9.8 When designing an integrated healthcare service, there are some basic questions that need to be considered. We visited the Marylebone Health Centre, an inner-city NHS GP practice with a multi-disciplinary team including CAM practitioners (see Appendix 4). There, Dr David Peters described the six stages of integrating CAM into general practice and discussed the main questions to be tackled at each stage. These were:

    (i)  Practice review - Which needs are being poorly met?

    (ii)  Resource assessment - Is CAM relevant? What is its evidence base? Is integration feasible?

    (iii)  Designing a service - Asking how will GPs use the service? What will be its aims? How will complementary practitioners be integrated into the primary care team?

    (iv)  Delivering the service - Developing referral procedures and working on resource monitoring.

    (v)  Management servicing - Including quality assurance procedures and evaluating outcomes,

    (vi)  Modifying the service in response to experience.

    (vii)  Once modification has taken place the steps can start all over again so the service is constantly self-monitoring and improving.

9.9 In terms of step 3 of this model, designing a service, this is a very important issue for all NHS integrative healthcare; no matter which delivery model is used it is very important to decide when GPs should consider a CAM referral. At the Marylebone Health Centre it was decided that GPs would refer to a CAM practitioner only for conditions where some evidence for the efficacy of a particular CAM existed. It was also decided that referrals would only take place if GPs wanted to refer, and if complementary practitioners thought they could help.

9.10 The Marylebone Health Centre developed a list of conditions that they commonly consider for CAM referrals. These include complex chronic illnesses such as: chronic fatigue syndrome; stress-related conditions; asthma; irritable bowel syndrome; eczema and non-specific allergies; back pain and migraine. GPs at the Centre consider a referral if there is an initial diagnosis of one of these conditions and if one of the following criteria applies: (a) conventional medicine has failed; (b) the patient is suffering side-effects from the conventional treatment; (c) the patient requests CAM for one of the conditions above; or (d) if the GP feels it is a complex case where a CAM may help (and having asked the CAM therapist they, too, feel they may be able to help.)

9.11 The other CAM practice we visited, the Southampton Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine (see Appendix 5) was a very different organisation from the Marylebone Health Centre as it is an independent-provider organisation contracted by District Health Authorities to offer CAM services for specified conditions. However, the conditions for which it receives NHS referrals are very similar to those treated at the Marylebone Health Centre.

9.12 During our visit to Southampton they told us about a survey of the Centre which was published in the British Medical Journal which shows that most patients come with very long-term problems (average duration 10 years). The staff continuously audit their practice, and results for 1999 show impressive results for many patients suffering from chronic conditions, especially irritable bowel syndrome and myalgic encephalitis (ME), more often called the chronic fatigue syndrome.

9.13 The Southampton Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine operates a contract with Dorset Area Health Authority. This is a unique arrangement within the NHS for CAM services and it operates in two parts. The first part is an integrated medicine unit which the Centre operates for one day each month at a GP practice in Dorset. GPs in local clinics are able to refer patients with any of six specific conditions to this clinic. These conditions are: chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, child behavioural problems, eczema and non-specific allergy. The second part of the contract with the Dorset Area Health Authority allows patients to travel to the Centre in Southampton for their treatment. Last year this resulted in 600 consultations. This system provides for the same six conditions as the first contract, although there is some flexibility. This service has proved to be quite popular with GPs, especially as a way of dealing with patients who are 'difficult' and whom they have been unable to help. The second part of the contract has been designed so that it is very easy to administer: it provides for six appointments for the specified condition, with the only formalities required being a letter of referral and a letter of progress to be sent to the referring GP. The six appointments can be extended if the GP writes to the Health Authority for permission. The Centre makes a conscious effort to make sure that GPs are always kept up-to-date about their patients' progress and treatment. This arrangement has allowed interested GPs to become fully informed about the methods that the Centre employs.

9.14 Both the Marylebone Health Centre and the Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine are examples of integrative healthcare projects that GPs feel have benefited their patients and themselves. These provide evidence that there is a place for CAM in primary care, especially in the treatment of chronic conditions with which GPs often struggle to help their patients.

Primary and Secondary Care

9.15 One of the questions that we have considered is whether CAM is more suited to primary or secondary healthcare delivery. Dr Michael Dixon of the NHS Alliance told us that in the delivery of CAM "…there is clearly a bias towards primary care… t is firmly in the primary care agenda already. I think also psychologically there is an empathy there, that is to say, first of all, both general practice, primary care and complementary medicine are holistic from their point of view, they are taking the whole person not just the constituent bits. Secondly, they are both very committed to the whole idea of self-care which secondary care often is not, it is often more the passive act of modern, traditional medicine. Thirdly, I think this whole concept of a therapeutic relationship is much stronger in primary than secondary care. There is a natural empathy in primary care" (Q 1474).

9.16 However, Professor Ruth Chambers, also from the NHS Alliance, added: "Without doubt we think it should also be in secondary care. We think it should be offered along all care pathways… so that the care pathway for back pain or whatever would automatically have complementary medicine featuring in the flow of a patient. It would be self-care: coming to the GP, going to secondary care and back again involving all the therapies. We think it should be a cost-effective option for reducing in-patient costs and that is why secondary care would be interested in learning more about it and adopting it where it fits" (Q 1474).

9.17 There are existing models of CAM being part of secondary care delivery, but they are limited to three or four main areas. First, where the manipulative therapies (osteopathy and chiropractic) have been integrated into orthopaedic care. Second, where acupuncture (and occasionally some of the relaxant therapies in Group 2) have been integrated into pain clinics. Third, where acupuncture and occasionally aromatherapy have been integrated into some obstetric and cancer services, and into palliative care, rehabilitation and care of the elderly. And fourth, where homeopathy is provided within secondary care through the homeopathic hospitals (see Appendix 6).

9.18 There are many different means through which CAM may be available on the NHS; definitive judgements cannot easily be made about which models are best as so little work has been done on evaluating this area. FIM told us that "…it is crucial that where there is successful integration of orthodox and CAM therapies that these projects are carefully evaluated" (p 30). This would help produce guidelines for future attempts at integration on issues such as when to refer, how to communicate about treatment regimes etc. FIM have recently received a small grant from the Department of Health to undertake some work in this area (p 30).

9.19 In conclusion, it seems that there are already several successful models of integration, although current levels of provision are patchy. In addition, with the recent introduction of Primary Care Groups and Trusts primary care delivery patterns are changing (this will be discussed in the next section). It is probably not necessary to ask which method of integrated healthcare is best but instead to ask which method of delivery is most appropriate in which situation? Work needs to be done to evaluate existing models of integration so that each new project can learn from those that came before. The anecdotal experiences brought to our attention seem to suggest that there is a valuable role for CAM in primary care, especially when provision concentrates on referrals for those conditions for which, according to our evidence, CAM helps most (e.g. chronic complaints, allergies).

9.20 We recommend that those practising privately accessed CAM therapies should work towards integration between CAM and conventional medicine, and CAM therapists should encourage patients with conditions that have not been previously discussed with a medical practitioner to see their GP. We also urge CAM practitioners and GPs to keep an open mind about each other's ability to help their patients, to make patients feel comfortable about integrating their healthcare provision and to exchange information about treatment programmes and their perceptions of the healthcare needs of patients.

53   Thomas et al (1995) National Survey of Access to Complementary Health via General Practice University of Sheffield. Back

54   A PCT differs from a PCG in that it is legally responsible for the delivery of primary care services, unlike a PCG which is a sub-committee of a Health Authority. Most PCGs expect to develop into PCTs over the next 5 years. Back