The Scottish Perspective: Potential for Integration of Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture within the NHS

By Linda Hehir


The opinions of healthcare providers play a crucial role in the debate around integrating Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) into the current healthcare system.  Therefore this piece of research aims to explore local doctors and physiotherapists knowledge, opinions and views on acupuncture and traditional Chinese Medicine (tCM) acupuncture (a CAM therapy)specifically and their level of support for its integration within the NHS in Scotland (NHSiS).  Justification for this comes from the lack of research in respect of integration of tCM acupuncture in its own right as opposed to integration of CAM therapies as a whole and that there is some evidence of integration of tCM acupuncture south of the border.

A purpose built self-administered questionnaire was mailed to 524 doctors and 107 physiotherapists.  A response rate of 51% was achieved.

The main findings are that 73.3% of the doctors and physiotherapists had heard of tCM acupuncture and although 83.7% thought that acupuncture was clinically useful, 62.5% were neither neutral or undecided as to whether tCM acupuncture should be integral within NHSiS.  The research indicates the high neutrality or ‘did not know’ responses appear to be influenced by the respondents limited knowledge and understanding of tCM acupuncture and its differences with western medicine acupuncture and lack of clinical effectiveness evidence.  However 53.5% of participants already refer patients for western medicine acupuncture and 68.4% indicated they would be willing to refer patients to a tCM acupuncturist service if integrated, with differing models for integration being identified – a) Model of care – 77% of respondents thought that tCM acupuncture would be best applied to treating individual patients needs and b) Model of practice – 56.6% thought those tCM acupuncturists should either work collaboratively with doctors or should be assimilated into healthcare teams.

The findings suggest that with greater knowledge and understanding of tCM acupuncture specifically and with greater clinical effectiveness evidence, professional opinions on integration of tCM acupuncture could be influenced more positively.