Research: WHITE, RESCH and ERNST

Listed in Issue 28


WHITE, RESCH and ERNST, Department of Complementary Medicine, Postgraduate Medical School, University of Exeter UK write that information regarding GPs use of and attitudes toward Complementary Medicine (CM) is necessary in order to progress the debate about the role of CM within mainstream medicine . Evidence shows that the use of CM is particularly high in the South-West of the UK.



A survey of all primary care physicians working in the health service in Devon and Cornwall was carried out via a questionnaire.


Of 981 GPs contacted, 461, or 47% replied to the questionnaire. 316 GPs (68%) had been involved with CM in some way during the previous week. At least one form of CM was practised by 74 (16%) of the respondents, the two most common being homoeopathy (5.9%) and acupuncture (4.3%). 115 (25%) had referred at least one patient to a complementary therapist in the previous week and 253 (55%) had endorsed or recommended CM treatment. The three most effective therapies rated by the GPs were chiropractic, acupuncture and osteopathy and a majority of the respondents thought that these three therapies ought to be funded by the health service . 176 (38%) of respondents reported adverse effects, the most common following manipulation.


More than two-thirds of GPs in Devon and Cornwall, higher than the national average, who replied to this questionnaire had been involved with complementary medicine in some way during the previous week. The majority of GP respondents thought that acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy were effective therapies and should be funded by the NHS .


White AR, Resch KL and Ernst E. Complementary medicine: use and attitudes among GPs. Fam Pract 14(4): 302-6. Aug 1997.


Without wishing to dampen down these extremely promising figures of GPs embracing complementary medicine, it must be pedantically pointed out that merely 47% of the GPs contacted replied to the questionnaire. If the percentage of use of complementary therapies by GPs is the same for the remaining 53% of GPs who didnt respond, then we have the glowing situation whereby two thirds of GPs support at least the more mainstream therapies of complementary medicine. However, if the worst case scenario exists whereby none of these 520 other GPs endorse or use complementary medicine, then the percentage drops to 316 out of 981, or roughly one third. Probably the real figure is somewhere between one and two thirds, or one half, which is still a milestone achievement.

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