Elderly patients with co-morbidities should be referred for regular acupuncture sessions to help reduce pressure on the NHS, the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) says.
Significantly Fewer Deaths
The comments follow a systematic review, published in BMJ Open, which showed that continuity of care resulted in ‘significantly fewer deaths’ among patients and halved the risk of an emergency hospital admission.
The BAcC claims that the ‘continuity of patient-centred care’ provided by regular acupuncture, delivered by the same practitioner, over a considerable period of time helps relieve symptoms, reduce medication and improve wellbeing of elderly patients, therefore reducing their 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 last year 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.
‘What is perhaps most interesting,’ Bovey comments, ‘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.
Whole Person Approach
‘Being nice to people and approaching them as whole people has a big effect on their symptoms. [The whole-person approach] could be delivered within regular medicine [ . . . ] We need to learn the lessons from complementary medicine and deliver them better conventionally, but you are not going to get GPs who are working 14 hours a day within the current health system, and who are all pretty disillusioned, to have increased compassion,’ he said.