Medical Research

Britain's National Health Service Prioritizes Acupuncture for Back Pain

Kristen Sparrow • June 18, 2009

(I’m not sure how I missed this study which came out in May. This is great news for the practice of acupuncture and great news for patients in Britain. )

NHS pins its hopes for treating back pain on acupuncture”

“Unprecedented approval for alternative therapies from health service watchdog”

“Tens of millions of pounds are being wasted by the NHS(National Health Service) on useless treatments for back pain, money that should be diverted to alternative therapies such as acupuncture and spinal manipulation, a health service watchdog says today.

From among 200 treatments and devices claimed to help a bad back, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) has passed judgement on what works and what doesn’t. X-rays, ultrasound and steroid injections are out and osteopathy, chiropractic and “needling” (i.e. acupuncture) are in, it says.

The new guidelines mark a watershed in the treatment of the condition and for Nice itself. It is the first time that the institute has issued a positive recommendation that the NHS provide, and pay for, alternative therapies.
But Nice says a careful review of the evidence shows that acupuncture and spinal manipulation work.

The article goes on to say that Back pain is among the most common reasons for visits to family doctors (after colds and flu.) The NHS spends 1.5 billion pounds (about 2 billion dollars) treating 2.5 million patients. The study found that most of the money was wasted. The new guidelines pertain to patients whose back pain has persisted more than 6 weeks. The new guidelines say that these patients should be offered three options: an exercise programme, a course of manual therapy including manipulation or a course of acupuncture. If one treatment option does not work, patients may be offered a second.

The panel that drew up the guidelines expects acupuncture to be the most popular option, with an estimated annual cost of over £24m in England and Wales.

“To pay for the new treatments, the panel estimates that ending the use of steroid and other injections into the back will save more than £33m, stopping MRI scans will save £12m, and a further £1m can be diverted from funds for X-rays. Evidence shows that ordering X-rays can make patients worse, by confirming their invalid status. The overall net cost to the NHS of implementing the guidelines is estimated at just £77,000.”

“Professor Peter Littlejohns, the clinical and public health director at Nice, said: “Most people will be affected by low back pain at some stage in their lives. The NHS now has evidence-based guidance on how to treat the condition effectively.”…””In this case, the evidence was robust enough to make a positive recommendation,” he said.”