BAcC: Giving elderly patients regular acupuncture could help take pressure off stretched NHS, say experts

2018 is the 70th anniversary of the NHS.

Founded in 1948, the National Health Service was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. Since its inception, it has grown to be the world’s largest publicly funded health service, dealing with more than 1 million patients every 36 hours.

Despite its multitude of merits, the NHS is experiencing a lot of difficulties from budget cuts and staffing issues to lack of resources and long wait times between appointments.

In order to relieve this strain, the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) suggest that elderly patients with one or more additional diseases and/or should be referred for regular acupuncture sessions.

A systematic review published in the BMJ Open (British Medical Journal), showed that continuity of care resulted in ‘significantly fewer deaths’ among patients and halved the risk of an emergency hospital admission.

According to the BAcC, regular acupuncture, delivered by the same practitioner, over a considerable amount of time can improve the overall wellbeing of elderly patients, from relieving symptoms, reducing medication and reducing the risk of hospital admission.

Mark Bovey, research manager at the BAcC, says there is significant evidence suggesting acupuncture is effective in relieving pain in conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and other musculoskeletal complaints and acupuncturists could be playing a much bigger role:

“National health services across the developed world are struggling to cope with increasing numbers of old people with chronic illnesses. Conventional health and social care resources are overstretched and polypharmacy is rife, with its attendant side effects and interaction complications. Acupuncture could offer a useful additional resource.”

He highlights a report, Long-Term Acupuncture Therapy for Low-Income Older Adults with Multimorbidity: A Qualitative Study of Patient Perceptions, which was carried out in California in 2017 and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

The qualitative study, which involved 15 patients aged 60 years and older suffering from at least two chronic conditions, showed that a substantial number of participants were able to reduce their medication and maintain physical and mental health. In addition, they developed a strong trust in the clinic’s ability to support the totality of their health as individuals, which they contrasted to the specialised and impersonal approach of conventional medicine.

Bovey goes on to comment:

‘What is perhaps most interesting is how the acupuncture clinic became the main health hub for these people. They were diagnosed and treated; there was social and emotional support, practical advice and referral to other community resources. This was a one-stop, holistic service, the sort of coordinated care model that the NHS is striving for, and patients yearning for.’

Giving evidence to a 2013 House of Commons health committee investigation into how the NHS could better manage elderly people with long-term conditions, the late Dr George Lewith, former professor of health research at the University of Southampton, said conventional medicine could ‘learn a lot’ from complementary medicine.

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