A landmark government-funded study found there is “evidence of the benefits of naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine for almost every body system and all major illnesses.” Yet, the Federal Government didn’t take the report into account when deciding to cut private health insurance rebates.
The study, conducted by La Trobe University’s School of Public Health, was funded by the Victorian Government’s Department of Human Services and published in 2005 in response to the growing demand for natural medicine and therapies.
Researchers surveyed GPs, natural medicine practitioners and patients, as well as reviewed the findings of 77 published reviews concluding widespread benefits of Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine. This evidence was ignored in its totality by the Department of Health’s Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for Natural Therapies, a review commissioned by Labor in 2012 intended to justify removing Government health fund rebate support for natural therapies.
The La Trobe University report confirmed the findings of another 2003 study that found “medical practitioners believe that certain (complementary and alternative medicine) CAM practices are efficacious or offer benefit”.
84 percent of GPs surveyed agreed acupuncture and massage were moderately or highly effective and the majority of GPs surveyed were likely to refer patients to massage or acupuncture.
GPs surveyed recognised the demand for complementary medicine was increasing and there was a high level of acceptance and use of CAM by the medical profession.
GPs believe it was important that CAM be included in undergraduate curricula and were interested receiving training in acupuncture, herbal medicine, vitamin and mineral therapy, hypnosis, massage, meditation and yoga.
The majority (72.5%) of patients who saw a naturopath or used Western Herbal Medicine were self-referred.
In the U.S and Australia researchers found an increasing number of mainstream health practitioners are seeking training in alternative medicine and therapies to provide a more holistic approach to patient care.
The La Trobe study concluded that the “tools of the trade” of both alternative medicines – Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine – can be effective, and therefore the practices are potentially effective.
The majority of patients in a focus group said they were “very satisfied” with their treatment and outcomes, although it was dependant on finding the right practitioner.
Natural medicines and therapies are now the fifth most-common extras claim on private health insurance in Australia, yet the La Trobe University report was not considered when the Federal Government was deciding to cut the private health insurance rebate for natural therapies.
Your Health Your Choice spokesman Gerry Dendrinos said the report recommended GPs and natural healthcare practitioners be encouraged to collaborate in the care of patients, particularly patients with chronic illness, however he said sadly more than ten years on that did not appear to be happening and key research was continuing to be ignored.
Read the full report here