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UK Alternative Medicine Industry Overview
By Themedica on April 30, 2009 10:03 AM |
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Complementary and alternative medicine is becoming popular by the day in many developed countries including the UK. The UK market value estimates for  complementary therapies in 1996 stood at $106.4 million, while the sales of herbal remedies totaled $56 million, accounting for half of the total retail sales of alternative medicines. The article 'Alternative Medicine Industry Overview' has more information on the industry in general.

Data from surveys conducted in 2000 suggest that there were about 50,000  complementary and alternative medicine practitioners in the UK. Even though operating in a regulatory environment that is considered somewhat weak, the market for alternative and complementary medicine continues to expand. More recent market data suggests that the UK population spends about $192 million annually, and that within the next four years this figure will expand to go over $295.54 million.

What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee released a report on CAM in 2000, which referred to CAM as “a diverse group of health-related therapies and disciplines which are not considered to be a part of mainstream medical care. Other terms sometimes used to describe them include 'natural medicine', 'non-conventional medicine' and 'holistic medicine'.”

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use in the UK

The increasing use of CAM came into limelight and surveys were conducted to assess its impact as early as the mid-nineties. A 1995 study by the Alternative Health Information Bureau and the Nursing Times, which surveyed 393 nurses, found that about 58% of the nurses reported to use complementary therapies in their work, with as many as 89% agreeing to using alternative therapies at home.

A separate 1999 study found that not only were there about 50,000 CAM practitioners in the UK, but close to 10,000 statutory registered health professionals practiced some form of CAM around the country. Also, About 5 million patients agreed to having consulted an alternative medicine practitioner in the last year.

A large variety of CAM practices exist in the UK, from Homeopathy to Acupuncture and Naturopathy to Reflexology, and more. With some being more popular than the rest.
uk-cam-use-by-therapy-1999.jpgA survey of CAM use conducted in just England assessed 2668 responses and found that 13.6% of respondents had consulted the practitioners of the therapies homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, medical herbalism, osteopathy, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy and reflexology. The most commonly consulted therapists included osteopaths (4.3%), chiropractors (3.6%), aromatherapists (3.5%), reflexologists (2.4%), and acupuncturists (1.6%).
uk-cam-use-by-reason.jpgAside from the reasons cited by survey respondents for using CAM, some other explanations have been suggested. These reasons include that use of CAM is dictated by fashion, there has been a revival of interest in the paranormal phenomenon such as astrology, an increasing number of people today are worried about their health, and that the growing use of CAM reflects a general attitude of society towards science.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Regulation in the UK

The CAM industry functions under a weak federal system of regulation. While setting up a CAM business doesn't require a license, some forms of CAM practices have consolidated training standards and professional codes of conduct. Practices such as homeopathy, herbalism, acupuncture, massage therapies, naturopathy and nutritional therapy, as a result, can be considered as well-regulated, albeit voluntarily.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology report on CAM, generally considered most of the CAM therapies as safe. However, it adjudged that acupuncture, chiropractic and herbal medicine could be harmful if they were not practiced properly. The report also came up with a classification of CAM treatments and divided them into three groups as follows.

Group One - Osteopathy, herbal medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, and homeopathy. These practices have the best established professional organizations and training standards.

Group Two - Therapies such as aromatherapy, Alexander techniques, Bach flower remedies, hypnotherapy, massage therapy, reflexology, meditation, shiatsu, nutritional medicine, healing, and yoga are generally considered as harmless when used in conjunction with conventional medicine.

Group Three - Ayurvedic medicine, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, iridology, crystal therapy, and kinesiology, were considered by the committee as therapies that are unregulated and lack scientific evidence.

Some existing statutes that may apply on CAM practices in general include, "The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974," "The Food Safety Act 1990," "Trade Descriptions Act 1968," "Consumer Protection Act 1987," "The London Local Authorities Act 1991," legislation  regulating to specific illnesses e.g. cancer, the common law requiring all practitioners to care for their patients, and contractual relationship between therapist and client, which is legally enforceable.

Despite the fact that CAM is not yet well-researched and lacks both funding and infrastructure, its growing popularity presents the industry with an opportunity to be made use of.


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