Complementary medicine use, views and experiences – a national survey in England

Debbie J Sharp, Ava Lorenc, Richard Morris, Gene Feder, Paul Little, Sandra Hollinghurst, Mercer Stewart, Hugh MacPherson

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

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Background In 2005 12% of the English population visited a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioner.
Aim To obtain up-to-date general population figures for practitioner-led CAM use in England, and views/experiences regarding access.

Design & settingF ace-to-face questionnaire survey. Nationally representative adult quota sample (≥15yrs).
Method Ten questions within Ipsos MORI’s weekly population-based survey, about 12 month practitioner-led CAM use, reasons for non-use, views on NHS (National Health Service)-provided CAM, and willingness to pay.
Results Of 4,862 adults surveyed, 766 (16%) had seen a CAM practitioner, most commonly manual therapies (massage, osteopathy, chiropractic) and acupuncture, also yoga, Pilates, reflexology, mindfulness/meditation. Women, people with higher socioeconomic status (SES) and those in south England were more likely to access CAM. Musculoskeletal conditions (mainly back pain) accounted for 68% of use, and mental health 12%. Most was through self-referral (70%) and self financing. GPs/NHS professionals referred/recommended CAM for 17%/4% of users, who were more often unemployed, with lower income and social grade, and receiving NHS-funded CAM. Respondents were willing to pay varying amounts for CAM; 22% would not pay anything. Almost 2 in 5 respondents felt NHS funding and GP referral/endorsement would increase their CAM use.

Conclusion CAM use in England is common for musculoskeletal and mental health problems, but varies by gender, geography and SES. It is mainly self-referred and self-financed, some is GP endorsed/referred, especially for individuals of lower SES. Researchers, patients and commissioners should collaborate to research the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of CAM and consider its availability on the NHS
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice Open
Early online date13 Nov 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Nov 2018


  • Complementary Therapies
  • General Practice
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


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