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Could complementary therapies improve the nation’s health?

Did you know complementary therapies can lead to a 37% reduction in doctors’ visits?

We love complementary therapies - they're enjoyable, they're relaxing, they make us feel good. However, could the impact of treatments ranging from massage, to reflexology and reiki have a greater impact on the nation's health and wellbeing?

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Beauty and Wellbeing (the APPG), Chaired by Carolyn Harris MP and Judith Cummins MP, recently published recommendations for the government, following its inquiry into the value of complementary therapies in supporting the nation’s health.

The feeling (and figures) show that with the NHS being under escalating pressure, it is vital that the benefits of complementary therapies are taken into account, particularly for patients experiencing chronic pain or mental health conditions. If doctors and medical professionals were better informed about giving patients access to complementary therapies through social prescribing it could make a significant difference to patients, and also help ease pressure on the struggling health system.

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How can complementary therapies help national health?

The report noted: "Complementary therapies, when adopted by and integrated with the NHS, have almost invariably been cost effective and resulted in increased satisfaction of service users, with little or no risk of harm."

In particular, relating to the ongoing impact of the pandemic on national health, it found:

"Where COVID has resulted in some patients waiting too long for their treatments, some have ventured to alternative options, and shown significant improvements thus reducing the burden on NHS services."

Key findings include:

  • Complementary therapy practices can lead to a 37% reduction in doctors’ visits
  • Our own research equates that to a potential economic saving of £3.3B per annum (£9 million per day) to the national health service.
  • Currently, around 20% of patients consult GPs for problems that are primarily social rather than medical, which could be addressed by the collaboration of the NHS with the wellbeing and holistic therapies sector.
  • In the UK, around 9 out of 10 people have tried a complementary therapy and 90% of this happens outside the NHS.
  • Cancer research has suggested that up to 40% of people with cancer use some kind of complementary therapy during their illness.
  • Other findings indicate that complementary therapy treatments help with stress and anxiety (54%), muscular pains (41%), lower back pain (26%), joint problems (22%) and tiredness and fatigue (22%).
  • Social prescribing of wellbeing and holistic therapies provide life changing support for those with conditions such as hormonal imbalance, puberty, fertility issues, pregnancy, menopause, anxiety, and stress – to name a few.
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Challenges to increasing social prescribing for complementary therapies

There are a number of challenges to increasing social prescribing for complementary therapies. The first is awareness amongst the medical profession. Another challenge is addressing a skills gap due to the drop in therapist numbers post pandemic, as well as ensuring all therapists gain access to higher level training in order to treat more vulnerable clients (such as cancer patients).

The wellbeing sector is often seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. While of course there is a luxury element to complementary therapies, depending on their context, the meaningful impact of touch treatments and the knowledge of practitioners shouldn't be underestimated.

The APPG report says: "During the pandemic, when access to the professional touch of Personal Care practitioners was severely restricted, consumers began to understand the value of spending quality focused time with a professional. Alongside providing crucial treatments, therapists also provided a listening ear, advice and emotional support which helps to combat loneliness and isolation. In addition, they diligently identified potential health issues such as skin cancers, self-harm and potential suicide. As we move forward from the devastating aftermath of the pandemic and gain an understanding of the effects of long-covid, a renewed appreciation of mindfulness, wellbeing and self-care remains. It is important in this context, to ensure that everyone has access to quality and appropriate wellbeing and holistic therapies."

As a team, we have always known and understood that while spa experiences can and should be fun, enjoyable and relaxing, there is also a very real and powerful side to the experience. You don't always have to be accessing spa treatments because there's an issue you want to address, but knowing that you can look to the wellbeing sector for healthcare support is individually and collectively empowering. Also, knowing that choosing to spend your downtime in a spa or wellbeing environment is a nurturing way to support overall wellbeing, helps us to experience wellness in a whole new way.

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Ref: All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beauty and Wellbeing Report on the value of complementary therapies in supporting the UK’s health, January 2023

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