Could natural medicine rescue NHS from financial crisis?

According to a new report, the growing number of people suffering chronic illnesses threatens to cripple the NHS – unless the health service relies more on natural alternatives

A new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Integrated Healthcare has released a report which shows that growing number of people suffering from long-term illnesses pose significant threats to the future sustainability of the NHS.

MPs are urging the NHS to embrace complementary, traditional and natural medicine to ease the mounting burden on service provision.

The report says that the costs to the health service of a number of medical conditions are increasing rapidly.

It is estimated that the NHS spent £6.1bn on obesity-related ill-health in 2014-2015, with the overall cost of obesity to wider society estimated at £27bn.

The incidence of lower back pain is also increasing, with disability due to back pain rising by more than 50% since 1990. It affects around a third of the UK adult population each year.

There are also around 7 million people living with heart and circulatory disease in the UK.

These figures hide an even more serious problem. There are more patients suffering from multimorbidity (suffering from two or more long-term health conditions) than ever before, with the number of people in England with one or more long-term condition projected to increase to around 18 million by 2025.

70% of total health expenditure on health and care in England is associated with treating the 30% of the population with one long-term condition or more; the result of these complex health conditions is the growing problem of polypharmacy (the use of several drugs at the same time).

According to the report, this may be the biggest threat to the future economic viability of the NHS, with increasing costs of pharmaceutical drugs needed to treat patients with multiple illnesses, coupled with largely unknown effects of the long-term use of these drugs in combination.

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The report argues that government needs to devise a strategy to fully assess the degree of drug interactions, determine the long-term health effects on patients, and arrest the trend of over medicating the population.

MPs believe this strategy should make greater use of natural, traditional and complementary medicines which are widely used for a variety of conditions.

David Tredinnick MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group which produced the report, insisted that the current approach being taken by the government is unsustainable for the long-term future of the country.

“Despite positive signs that ministers are proving open to change, words must translate into reality. For some time our treasured NHS has faced threats to its financial sustainability and to common trust in the system.

“Multimorbidity is more apparent now in the UK than at any time in our recent history. As a trend it threatens to swamp a struggling NHS, but the good news is that many self-limiting conditions can be treated at home with the most minimal of expert intervention.”

“Other European governments facing similar challenges have considered the benefits of exploring complementary, traditional and natural medicines. If we are to hand on our most invaluable institution to future generations, so should we.”

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