Having been given the purse strings to the NHS commissioning budget, a host of GPs opted to commission complementary therapies, including acupuncture and aromatherapy.

Most GPs’ applications to provide these services were approved, including plans to provide aromatherapy in Doncaster and Kirklees and an “alternative therapies” scheme in North East Essex.

Out of the 50 primary care trust areas where GPs were given access to use “freed-up resources” from the practice based commissioning budget between 2008 and 2010, 12 received applications for complementary therapies.

The most common therapies were acupuncture and osteopathy, although there were at least two applications for yoga, neuro-linguistic programming and the Alexander technique.

There is limited clinical evidence for the effectiveness of these treatments and many appear on PCT lists of low priority treatments.

The schemes include a £7,527 acupuncture service commissioned in 2010 by the Blue Dykes practice in Derbyshire. A spokesman for the PCT said it had “debated the issue” with the practice and although it agreed to fund it for one year, that would not now continue.

The PCT also rejected a £120,000 proposal from another consortium to pilot the use of the Alexander technique.

Information on GP proposals for spending the commissioning surplus - mostly relating to 2009-10 - were released to HSJ under the Freedom of Information Act.

HSJ has shared the details of the schemes with Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School, which assesses the evidence base for alternative medicines. He said although there was some “good evidence” for acupuncture, yoga and osteopathy, this was limited to very specific patient groups.

There was no good evidence for homeopathy or neuro-linguistic programming, he said.

He said: “This [the GPs’ applications] all seems very hit and miss, and it indicates the existence of double standards within the NHS: Evidence based medicine for conventional medicine and random choice for complementary medicine.”

The most detailed funding proposal seen by HSJ was made to NHS Portsmouth by an anonymous GP who had become licensed by the Faculty of Homeopathy and was running a private homeopathic service from their practice.

The application revealed the GP had provided homeopathic treatments for at least a year, including for a patient with flatulence who received “substantial benefits”. Another “lonely” patient was “cured”.

The application to extend the service to NHS funded patients was rejected.

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Commissioning funds used to pay for GP basics