Complementary medicine and the NHS: Experiences of integration with UK primary care

Debbie Sharp, Ava Lorenc*, Paul Little, Mercer Stewart, Sandra Hollinghurst, Gene Feder, Hugh MacPherson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
360 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), often accessed privately, can be integrated with conventional care. Little is known about current integration in the UK National Health Service (NHS). We provide an overview of integrated CAM services accessed from UK primary care for musculoskeletal and mental health conditions, to identify key features and barriers and facilitators to integration. Methods: Descriptive analysis of integrated services accessed from primary care providing CAM alongside conventional NHS care for musculoskeletal and/or mental health problems. A purposive sample was identified through personal contacts, social media, literature/internet searches, conferences, and patient/professional organisations. Questionnaires, documentary analysis and stakeholder meetings collected data on the service's history, features, integration, success and sustainability. Data was tabulated. Results: From 38 sites identified, twenty sites were selected. Acupuncture and homeopathy were most common, followed by massage, osteopathy and mindfulness. GPs were often instrumental initiating services. NHS staff enthusiasm facilitated integration, as did an NHS setting, patient/public support, and being adjunctive to an NHS service. The main barriers to integration were funding, negative perceptions of CAM from the clinicians, funders and lobby groups, and local NHS staff attitudes/lack of knowledge. Reduced funding was often why services closed. Conclusions: Various models for integrating CAM with UK primary care were identified. Social prescribing and NHS/patient co-funded CAM may be potentially sustainable models for future integration. Lack of funding and negative perceptions of CAM remain the primary challenge to integration. Evaluating effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of integrated services is vital to ensure sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-16
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Integrative Medicine
Early online date17 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • Comorbidity
  • Complementary therapies
  • General practice
  • Integrative medicine
  • Primary health care


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