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Northern Ireland

From February 2007 to February 2008, Get Well UK ran the UK's first government-backed complementary therapy pilot. Sixteen practitioners provided treatments including acupuncture, osteopathy and aromatherapy, to more than 700 patients at two GP practices in Belfast and Derry.   

The BBC made an hour long documentary following our trials and tribulations, which was broadcast on BBC1 NI on 5 May 2008.

Following the successful completion of the pilot, the results were analysed by Social and Market Research and recommendations were made to the Health Minister. 


Aims and Objectives 

The aim of the project was to pilot services integrating complementary medicine into existing primary care services in Northern Ireland. Get Well UK provided this pilot project for the Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) during 2007.

The objectives were:



The results of the pilot were analysed by Social and Market Research, who produced this report.

The findings can be summarised as follows: 

Following the pilot, 80% of patients reported an improvement in their symptoms, 64% took less time off work and 55% reduced their use of painkillers.

In the pilot, 713 patients with a range of ages and demographic backgrounds and either physical or mental health conditions were referred to various complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies via nine GP practices in Belfast and Londonderry. Patients assessed their own health and wellbeing pre and post therapy and GPs and CAM practitioners also rated patients’ responses to treatment and the overall effectiveness of the scheme.

Health improvement
• 81% of patients reported an improvement in their physical health
• 79% reported an improvement in their mental health
• 84% of patients linked an improvement in their health and wellbeing directly to their CAM treatment
• In 65% of patient cases, GPs documented a health improvement, correlating closely to patient-reported improvements
• 94% of patients said they would recommend CAM to another patient with their condition
• 87% of patient indicated a desire to continue with their CAM treatment

Painkillers and medication
• Half of GPs reported prescribing less medication and all reported that patients had indicated to them that they needed less
• 62% of patients reported suffering from less pain
• 55% reported using less painkillers following treatment
• Patients using medication reduced from 75% before treatment to 61% after treatment
• 44% of those taking medication before treatment had reduced their use afterwards

Health service and social benefits
• 24% of patients who used health services prior to treatment (i.e. primary and secondary care, accident and emergency) reported using the services less after treatment
• 65% of GPs reported seeing the patient less following the CAM referral
• Half of GPs said the scheme had reduced their workload and 17% reported a financial saving for their practice
• Half of GPs said their patients were using secondary care services less 



-> Read what some of the 700+ patients had to say about our pilot. 

-> Listen to their experiences.


Despite initial scepticism, the GPs involved were almost unanimously in favour after seeing tangible results. In 99% of patient cases GPs said they would refer the patient, or a different patient, to the scheme again and in 98% of cases GPs said they would recommend the service to other GPs. However, they also called for more information to help build their understanding of CAM therapies. 

An educational CD was sent to every GP in Northern Ireland. You can listen to the podcast about the service 

BBC documentary and other media

On 5 May 2008, BBC1 Northern Ireland broadcast an hour-long documentary, "Get Well NI", about our project, narrated by Feargal Keane, which can be watched in full online here. Numerous media articles were written about the pilot in local and national press - google for "Get Well NI" - including this one on the BBC News website.



Paul Goggins MP, the Health Minister for Northern Ireland spent his second day in post at an event for complementary therapists hosted by Prince Charles and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain MP (Goggins' speech can be read in full here.) It was agreed to take integrated medicine forward in the Province. Paul Goggins subsequently announced a fund to pilot complementary therapies for NHS patients, and a commitment to making these therapies available to everyone in Northern Ireland if the pilot proved to be successful. Success, in this case, meant improvements in health and reductions in NHS costs.

A steering group was established which organised a conference on 5th October 2006. Speakers from different disciplines outlined to a packed audience of health professionals, the training, standards and evidence of some complementary therapies.

In Northern Ireland, Get Well UK was answerable to a Steering Committee made up of representatives from the available therapies (acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic, homeopathy, massage and osteopathy) and from the Health Boards of Northern Ireland. The service was independently audited and evaluated, as arranged by the DHSSPS.