I found this really interesting to research about as on one side we have the conventional medicinal treatments which are without doubt  successful, but can have some severe side effects; whilst on the other hand we have non-scientifically proven treatments which are in some cases believed to have a placebo effect on patients, but have no direct harmful effects to the patients’ well being. I really enjoyed learning about they types of complementary treatments which exist such as homeopathy, accupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic and herbalism. I also explored the area of Holistic Medicine and I came across a beautiful quote which appears to really make a lot of sense to me…  

The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”

– William Osler

But, referring back to the statement, many of us will probably have no issue with complementary or alternative treatments, however, here we are asked about whether it should be provided on the NHS. This is an entirely different debate to the one in which one could argue about whether complementary treatments should exist altogether. The fact is that they do, and they are used by a significant proportion of the population, but should the NHS provide it?


  • Complimentary and alternative treatments may not demonstrate the same range of evidence to support it as conventional treatments do, however, that does not prove that they are not of benefit to patients
  • A lack of scientific evidence does not mean that some complimentary therapies don’t have a therapeutic effect.
  • Some conventional treatments could potentially save the NHS money as they are sourced from natural substances rather than expensive chemicals.
  • Conventional treatments are known to a have a placebo effect on patients, this is could have a great impact on Palliative care by making the patients feel more comfortable.
  • There is a lack of funding into researching conventional treatments, which could put them at a disadvantage as we do not know of their full capabilities – they could be a lot more beneficial than conventional medicine (which had proven lists of side effects).
  • Complementary treatments can be considered as a form of Holistic Medicine as they do not only consider the symptoms of disease, but also a patient’s mental and social factors, therefore considering them as a whole individual and not just their illness.
  • It is not morally fair to keep alternative treatments in the private sector as this limits the less wealthy members of the public. Should we allow our wealth to determine the level of healthcare we can receive?
  • Alternative Medicine offers hope to the patients and gives doctors another option when conventional therapy has failed.
  • Some doctors do recommend alternative therapies to some of their patients, like the example in the programme ‘Doctor in The House’ where the patient was recommended accupuncture for her hot flushes. She found it really improved these symptoms.
  • Complementary treatments are proving to be becoming increasingly popular and it is the NHS’ role to provide for the public. If that is what the patients want, should doctors try to meet their requirements.


  • Complementary and alternative medicine is cost ineffective. On average, the budget for this treatment in England would be £2,700,000,000 per year, which isn’t the most ideal situation considering the cuts the NHS is currently facing.
  • The figures suggest that the NHS would be spending more money on acupuncture than it currently spends on cancer treatment, which should clearly be prioritised over mild pains and aches.
  • It’s also a very time consuming form of treatment and its entry into the the NHS would cause waiting periods to increase.
  • Complementary treatment takes so much more time than conventional biomedical treatment that for each patient administered, a GP has to sacrifice treating six patients through conventional biomedical therapy.
  • Rather than fund alternative therapies, the NHS should focus on integrating its practices to decrease waiting times and to better aid in the distribution of medicines to the poor.
  • There’s not enough published studies which would allow a safe distribution of this treatment through the NHS without potentially harming the public.
  • If alternative and complementary treatments are introduced to NHS services, doctors will need to be trained in advising their patients. A tremendous lack of education in the field would need to be bridged to make this work effectively.
  • It has been reported that some oils used in aromatherapy may be carcinogenic and accupuncture has also been documented for five fatalities.
  • Some people may become so dependant on alternative therapies causing them to neglect conventional treatments which have a proven effect.
  • There had been a case of a cancer patient who relied entirely on homeopathy while the disease progressed and her condition deteriorated. The homeopathy itself did not harm the patient, but her complete reliance on it led her to avoid getting more effective methods of treatment.


In conclusion, complementary and alternative treatments do seem to impact patients in a positive way, but there is a huge gap of Scientific evidence proving their safety and effectiveness. However, they do provide holistic care to individuals and mentally ease the patients which is incredibly important considering the link between our mind and our ability to recover. It’s also suggested that they are less expensive, however, the uncertainty of their capabilities would not make it appropriate to make this treatment replace conventional medicines; therefore they would add to the overall expenditure of the NHS if they are to be introduced.

My Opinion

I think this is a very difficult dilemma, but despite the lack of supporting evidence I think that the NHS should consider introducing alternative therapies as part of its service for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons which has caused me to sway towards agreeing with the above statement is the fact that this form of Medicine is becoming more common amongst the public. Doctors have a role to provide for their patients and due to this rise in its popularity, healthcare professionals have a duty to offer it. People who want these treatments will take them regardless, but through the NHS it could be tested and regulated to ensure that they are being carried out in a safe manner and thus not harming patients. To some extent, by not offering alternative treatments, doctors are putting patients at risk and not extending the number of options which are truly available to them. The very few reports of carcinogenic chemicals and fatalities in complementary medicinal treatments could be reduced to none if regulated in an appropriate manner.

Another reason why in my opinion, I do think that complementary and alternative forms of treatment should be offered is because they comply with the four main principles of Medical Ethics:

  • Autonomy – Healthcare is very patient lead and the patient themselves should be given the opportunity to choose and decide on the type of treatment they would like without feeling limited or deprived of choice in any aspect. Some people are not keen on conventional medicines like repeatedly taking Paracetamol for headaches, does that mean doctors should just disregard them and not provide them with any treatment?
  • Beneficence – Complementary treatments could be beneficial to patients. Even if is just simply a Placebo Effect, if they improve the patients feelings within themselves in any way, surely this is a benefit.
  • Non-Maleficence – Taking alternative treatments will reduce the side effects caused by regular use of conventional treatments.
  • Justice – I think this principle is very significant as by offering it on the NHS everybody will be given equal access to complementary treatments and just wealthy people won’t be favoured as if it remained in the private sector. Money should not be the defining factor on the types of health choices we are able to make.
Posted by:Life of a Medic

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