Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Use of non-orthodox and conventional health care in Great Britain.

British Medical Journal 1991; 302 doi: (Published 26 January 1991) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1991;302:207
  1. K J Thomas,
  2. J Carr,
  3. L Westlake,
  4. B T Williams
  1. Department of Public Health Medicine, University of Sheffield Medical School.


    OBJECTIVE--To describe the characteristics of patients using non-orthodox health care and their pattern of use of conventional health care with respect to a particular problem. DESIGN--Postal survey of all 2152 practitioners of acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, and osteopathy identified from 11 national professional association registers. Patients attending a representative sample of 101 responding practitioners completed questionnaires covering demographic characteristics, presenting problems, and use of the health service. SETTING--Practices of practitioners of non-orthodox health care in England, Scotland, and Wales. SUBJECTS--Qualified, non-medical practitioners of non-orthodox health care working in Great Britain and 2473 patients who had attended one of the sampled practitioners in an allocated time period between August 1987 and July 1988. RESULTS--An estimated 1909 practitioners were actively practising one of the study treatments in Great Britain in 1987. Of the estimated 70,600 patients seen by this group of practitioners in an average week, most (78%) were attending with a musculoskeletal problem. Two thirds of the patients were women. Only 2% were aged under 16, but 15% were aged 65 or over. One in three patients had not received previous conventional care for their main problem; 18% were receiving concurrent non-orthodox and conventional care. Twenty two per cent of the patients reported having seen their general practitioner for any reason in the two weeks before the surveyed consultation. CONCLUSIONS--Patients of non-orthodox health care, as provided by this group of practitioners, had not turned their backs on conventional health care. Non-orthodox treatment was sought for a limited range of problems and used most frequently as a supplement to orthodox medicine.