NHS provision – complementary therapies

This page outlines which complementary therapies are available on the NHS, and aims to give information about where and how it can be accessed.  It is not a comprehensive list because there isn’t one source for the information, so there may be many other projects around the country. It is always worth asking your GP if you wish to be referred for any of these.

To read more about what complementary therapies are go to: Therapies A-Z.  


Acupuncture is the most widely available therapy on the NHS as it has been embraced by a number of doctors and has a lot of evidence to support its effectiveness, which is always something that the medical establishment seeks.
Over 50 PCTs (Primary Care Trusts) provide some acupuncture out of the total 140 PCTs in the country, and 10 per cent of the Acupuncture Council’s members work in the NHS carrying out 3,000 treatments a year. 

There is a considerable amount of evidence about acupuncture’s efficacy, and it is used to treat:
• Back pain
• Migraines
• Frozen shoulder
• Chronic pain
• Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
• Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)
• Arthritis
• Anxiety
• Sinusitis
• Allergic rhinitis
• Vomiting
• Insomnia
• Depression
• Stress
• Childbirth
• Fibromyalgia
• Post-operative pain
• Substance misuse
• Sciatica
• Sinusitis
• Tinnitis
• Male & female infertility
• Menopausal symptoms
• Colds & flu
• Endometriosis
• Cystitis
• Bell’s palsy
• Urinary incontinence

Full details of PCTs who use acupuncture can be obtained from the Acupuncture Council,
020 8735 0400, www.acupuncture.org.uk


Chiropractic is a regulated therapy, and as such was expected to be available on the NHS. In practice you are far more likely to be referred to a physiotherapist than a chiropractor.

It is always worth asking your GP, your local Primary Care Trust or Health Board if NHS funding is available for chiropractic.  As yet, it is not widespread even though chiropractic care is included in the Department of Health’s own Musculoskeletal Services Framework.   

General Chiropractic Council, 020 7 713 5155, www.gcc-uk.org

Herbal medicine

Most herbalists work in private practice, but some operate within the NHS.  You can ask your GP for referral, but may not succeed if there is no provision in your area.  The Royal London Hospital of Integrated Medicine which comes under the University College NHS Trust provides a range of different complementary treatments including herbal medicine. You can ask your GP for referral, but if the PCT doesn’t have a budget for this kind of treatment, you may not be granted it.  To read more about it, see: Homeopathy.
Student training clinics: There are some student training clinics, which offer concessionary rates,  attached to universities where herbal medicine degree courses run, or have been run in the past:

• University of Westminster
• University of East London
• Middlesex University
• Lincoln University
• University of Edinburgh
• University of Leeds

National Institute of Medical Herbalists, 01392 426022, www.nimh.org.uk

Counselling and CBT

Both are available on the NHS but Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is the favoured treatment.  Most GPs will refer patients for a short course but if extended counselling is required, it is likely that you will be asked to pay for it.
BACP, 01455 883300, www.bacp.co.uk


Homeopathy is one of the most practised therapies in the NHS, both by trained homeopaths who have undergone  a training courses of several years, and medical doctors (and veterinary surgeons) who add homeopathy to their skills.
There are a number of homeopathic GPs around the country, and four hospitals that offer homeopathy on the NHS. By going to the British Homeopathic Association’s website you can find a local homeopathic GP: www.trusthomeopathy.org 

In principle you can ask your GP for referral to one of the homeopathic hospitals or clinics, but your request may not be granted. They should take your request seriously but they would want to be sure that homeopathy is the right thing for you – this is quite likely to be influenced by their beliefs. The decision may also be influenced by local funding too.

If you don’t feel that you were taken seriously you can contact the BHA for help, or register with a GP who is known to be more receptive to homeopathy. Some PCTs and LHBs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland 01582 408675 to find out.
To find a homeopath who has undergone full training go to: The Society of Homeopaths, 11 Brookfield, Duncan Close, Moulton Park, Northampton NN3 6WL Tel: 0845 450 6611, Fax: 0845 450 6622, E-mail: info@homeopathy-soh.org , www.homeopathy-soh.org


Some practitioners  combine hypnotherapy with NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), or counselling.  Some medically qualified people such as doctors and dentists may also add hypnotherapy to their skills for use in their practices.   It is likely that due to medical practitioners providing hypnotherapy it is sometimes available on the NHS, but provision is limited. Referral to a hypnotherapist is less common due to cutbacks in the health service, but patients with IBS may be more likely to be referred by doctors as hypnotherapy is known to ease stress.

The Hypnotherapy Association, 01257 262124, http://www.thehypnotherapyassociation.co.uk/

Manual lymph drainage (MLD)

Manual lymph drainage is a very gentle form of massage, aimed at relieving fluid congestion. It is best known for its application for the treatment of cancer patients who have developed lymphoedema after surgical removal of lymph nodes.
Therefore MLD is sometimes available on the NHS for lymphoedema treatment in cancer departments and major cancer hospitals. It may also be offered at hospices and hospital complementary care centres by volunteers.

MLD UK, 0844 800 1988  www.mlduk.org.uk


Some nutritionists work within the NHS but they are few and far between. It is also unlikely that you will be able to get referral to one.
BANT, British Association of Nutritional Therapists,   08706 061284, www.bant.org.uk


Most osteopaths work in the private sector, either alone or in a group practice, and some offer services through the NHS.
In some areas, doctors are able to refer patients to an osteopath for treatment funded by the NHS.  To find out whether osteopathic treatment is available on the NHS in your area, ask your doctor or check the NHS website.

All osteopaths in the UK, wherever they work, are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC).  It is against the law for anyone to call themselves an osteopath unless they are registered with the GOsC, which sets and promotes high standards of competency, conduct and safety.

General Osteopathic Council, 020 7357 6655, www.osteopathy.org.uk


Reflexology is not widely available on the NHS, with the exception of supporting people with cancer (and sometimes their family or carers) at cancer units within hospitals. Sometimes a small fee is required for therapies such as reflexology, but examples of where it is available are the Richard Dimbleby Unit, St Thomas’s Hospital, London, the Beacon Centre at Musgrove Park, Taunton,  Somerset, and at the Fountain Centre, Royal Surrey Hospital, Guildford. 

Where research is being carried out reflexology may also be available on the NHS – in recent years there has been a study in the cardiac unit of a Scottish hospital and a fertility trial in Plymouth.

Association of Reflexologists, 01823 351010, www.aor.org.uk

T’ai chi

There are  Tai Chi projects available  on the NHS, but only in certain places.  Painting the Rainbow is involved in training staff and providing t’ai chi for some patients.  In Birmingham  there is a free tai chi DVD for cardiac rehab patients that supports phase 3 & 4 classes, there are sessions for COPD patients, falls prevention, MS,  etc.  Training  of NHS staff to deliver session for in-patients in mental health, chronic pain is also undertaken in some places, but it is unlikely that outside these areas there would be any NHS provision.

T’ai chi can be very helpful for older people and there have been projects around the country where classes are given free to pensioners. It is extremely helpful in enabling people to maintain good balance and not fall over, and it is good for relaxation. 

A website for NHS staff that can be viewed at http://www.networks.nhs.uk/nhs-networks/tai-chi-chi-kung-for-rehabilitation

Painting the Rainbow – Community based tai chi for everyone (Birmingham area)


Alexander Technique

Provision of Alexander Technique is very limited, but some hospital pain clinics use it.
STAT, 020 7482 5135, www.stat.org


Many hospitals now provide complementary health centres, either via Macmillan or other charities as support for cancer. Treatment is sometimes free or available for a small fee to cancer patients, and their carers.
IFAROMA, 020 8567 2243, www.ifaroma.org


Provision of reiki is again patchy in the health service, but is often available at cancer units (as with aromatherapy and reflexology).  There is some use of reiki at the Kent & Canterbury Hospital, in Supportive Therapies.

Reiki Association 01484 480049, www.reikiassociation.org.uk