Exclusive - Routine acupuncture to cost £32m

Investigation reveals PCTs spend up to £200,000 a year on acupuncture.

Routine provision of acupuncture on the NHS could cost more than £32 million, figures obtained by GP newspaper show.

Last week, NICE recommended that patients with low back pain should be offered a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture needling over up to 12 weeks.

Figures obtained from 79 trusts under the Freedom of Information Act show that PCTs that fund acupuncture already spend more than £43,000 each year on the treatment, with some spending up to £200,000 a year on acupuncture services.

At present only 19 per cent of trusts fund acupuncture services, GP newspaper found. If all PCTs in England and local health boards (LHBs) in Wales matched these spending levels, more than £32 million would be spent by the NHS on acupuncture services.

NICE's guidance on the management of low back pain considers the place of acupuncture alongside exercise, drug therapy and other treatments.

It calculates that about £51,617,000 would be spent on additional therapies, including £24,366,000 on acupuncture, equivalent to around £140,000 per PCT or LHB.

The institute believes that, overall, the guidance will cost £77,000, with £51,540,000 saved through reductions in the use of MRIs, X-rays and injections in the base of the spine.

Dr Michael Dixon, GP and medical director of the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health, said that the NICE guidance would improve treatment for patients.

'Acupuncture is a cost-effective treatment for low back pain,' he said. The sooner patients are treated for back pain the more relief they receive. Patients can face long waits for physiotherapy and other services, he said.

'But acupuncture is not a blanket option,' he added. 'The patient has to want to try it.'

British Acupuncture Council member Persis Tamboly said that it was 'generally recognised' that acupuncture treatment is a cost-effective procedure.

tom.moberly@haymarket.com

Acupuncture Facts

  • 19 per cent of PCTs fund acupuncture therapy
  • £43,000 is the current average annual spend on acupuncture per PCT
  • £204,741 was spent by one PCT on acupuncture services

Source: GP investigation

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