The NHS healthcare system is one of the best in the world, but the high levels of demand and staff shortages are putting patients' lives at risk. There is an increasing shortage of GPs, doctors and nurses due to a growing and ageing population needing more medical care. Added to this is a disincentive to recruitment as fewer professionals want to work under these stressful conditions. Modern medicine has proved to have been very effective in tackling many of the health conditions we face today, however, there are areas, ‘effectiveness gaps’ (EGs), where available treatments in modern clinical practice are not fully effective, e.g., with depression, eczema, allergies, chronic pain for example, being frequently cited. Our campaign is for aromatherapy to become statutorily regulated and included within the NHS’s provision free of charge, where it can bridge the gap and support and improve the care available, thus reducing the pressure on staff and public spending on pharmaceutical interventions and related health costs.
Aromatherapists are specifically trained to deal with various muscular and psychosomatic conditions while GPs and nurses are not. Aromatherapists could therefore free up medical staff valuable time by taking on some of this workload.
Medically, aromatherapy can:
- Prevent conditions developing or deteriorating
- Be utilised before more expensive, invasive and often unnecessary treatments are considered
- Work alongside conventional medical treatment
- Assist in both recovery and rehabilitation programmes
- Be applied when conventional treatment has been exhausted and bring much needed comfort and respite
All of which could:
- reduce the pressure on medical staff;
- free up GP’s and nurse’s valuable time;
- save significant costs spent on ineffective medication with frequently cited negative side effects;
- reduce waiting time to see a physiotherapist for example, when patients know that aromatherapy massage works for them
All IFA therapists are bound by professional Codes of Conduct, Ethics and Practice and only ever work within the scope of their practice.
The Whole Person Approach
“The future of healthcare lies in our health system recognising that physical, emotional and mental health are intrinsically linked, and that only by treating a patient as a whole person can we tackle the root cause of illness and deal with the problem of patients presenting with multiple and complex conditions.” - All-Party Parliamentary Group for Integrated Healthcare (PGIH)
The IFA urge that for these types of conditions, a different approach is needed. A significant part of the strategy to tackle this, is to treat each patient as a whole person, with individual needs, rather than treating any presenting illnesses separately. The PGIH report stresses that the rising costs to the health system require a more person-centred approach to health delivery, which focuses on prevention and tackles the root cause of illness. The report recommends making greater use of natural, traditional and complementary therapies, which are widely used to support people affected by a variety of conditions. It also highlights the huge under-utilised resource of professional therapists, who could work in collaboration with conventional medicine to improve patient outcomes and ease the burden on the NHS.
Many more patients now suffer from multi-morbidity from when the NHS was formed 75 years ago, “with the number of people in England with one or more long-term conditions projected to increase to around 18 million by 2025”. Furthermore, it is estimated that 70% of total health expenditure on health and care in England is associated with treating 30% of the population with one or more long-term conditions. The result of these complex health conditions is the growing problem of polypharmacy, where several drugs are used at the same time. The report stresses that this is perhaps 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. “Polypharmacy works only to increase drugs dependency and cost to the taxpayer rather than tackling the underlying root causes of illness. The result is that increasing numbers of patients remain well enough to function, but without ever being well.”
The PGIH report argues that the 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. David Tredinnick MP, Chair of the PGIH, insisted that the current approach being taken by the government is unsustainable for the long-term future of the country and states: ‘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.” Other European governments facing similar challenges have considered the benefits of exploring complementary, traditional and natural medicines. If we are to hang on to our most invaluable institution to future generations, so should we.
So why is aromatherapy not statutory regulated in the UK?
The reason sited, is due to lack of funding as well as evidence, despite NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), issuing guidelines suggesting massage does in fact help certain conditions like lower back pain, multi-skeletal conditions (MSK) and sciatica and that aromatherapy notably helps with the symptoms of stress and dementia.
Some of the popular press has recently discussed these findings and highlighted that health experts categorise alternative treatments by those that are regulated by professional bodies and backed by scientific evidence, and those that are not. The need for aromatherapists to belong to a professional body such as the IFA is paramount to aromatherapy becoming statutory regulated. Furthermore, due to the increase in awareness of the dangers of self-governing bodies with no external quality assurance setting their own standards and insurance companies selling policies to those who have completed 1-2 days training, only aromatherapist who belong to a PSA regulated register may be able to work within the NHS in the future. And those who don't may have difficulty finding work. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) also take a similar view and limit how aromatherapy can be described, providing more scope for PSA accredited practitioners, but do not state just how much research is actually required to broaden the parameters.
Evidence base for aromatherapy
Ancient history has provided anecdotal evidence of the therapeutic use of essential oils but, in the last few decades, increasing scientific research has evidenced and substantiated its health benefits. The objective evidence base which supports aromatherapy comprises clinical trials, case histories, clinical audits and also patient reported outcome data. The amount of such research, and the media profile of some studies, has led to a high level of public confidence in the efficacy of aromatherapy. The trend in scientific essential oil research has vastly increased, both in the UK and Internationally in the last decade with websites such as pubmed publishing clinical trials on a weekly basis. More funding of research and publicity of this work is needed within the UK and the IFA are actively taking steps by conducting its own research trials.
In Working Practice
In the UK today the general public is increasingly turning to aromatherapy to address a multitude of health issues. Aromatherapy aims to enhance well-being, relieve stress and help in the rejuvenation and regeneration of the human body. When there is no conventional treatment available to relieve symptoms or alleviate an illness, complementary care is often the only form of support people have. Essential oils have the potential to tap into the emotions, to heal and soothe the body, and promote spiritual connection. Aromatherapy can help create an atmosphere where the recipient can feel cared for, physically relaxed, less anxious, calm and restful and it also has the potential for a vital role in care and recovery programmes.
As a result, our practitioners work in a variety of social and healthcare environments as well as private practice, hospitals and hospices on both a paid and voluntary basis.
- A survey conducted by the Department of Health found that more than two thirds of doctors believe CAM therapies should also be freely available on the NHS.
- According to The Foundation of Integrated Medicine, CAM is available through 10% of doctors' surgeries.
- In 2018 the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Integrated Healthcare (PGIH) published a report calling for CAM therapies to rescue the NHS from financial crisis.
- During the pandemic, the IFA worked with the Government Department of Health and Social Care for our registrants to be classified as ‘Healthcare workers’ rather than being classified under ‘Beauty’. This enabled our practitioners to continue to work during one of the worst healthcare challenges of a century as ‘essential workers’ and were given priority to receive the vaccine.
Alarming Facts and Figures:
- Work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounts for an estimated 6,214,000 days off work annually (The Health and Safety Executives)
- NHS England spends £7-10 billion per year on MSK conditions.
- Up to 7.5 million working days are lost nationally due to ill-health related to MSK conditions.
- 70 million working days are lost every year due to mental ill health costing an estimated £26 billion a year through sickness absence and lost productivity (MIND)
- Up to 60% of people on long-term incapacity benefit have an MSK condition.
- 30% of GP appointments are related to MSK conditions.
The Financial Argument
The NHS could save a lot of GP and hospital time notably on MSK conditions. It could save money currently spent on ineffective medication often causing bad side effects. It could also save money by avoiding unnecessary operations. Benefit payments could be greatly reduced by getting people back to work more quickly or even keeping them at work in the first place. Last, but not least, aromatherapy is cheaper than other NHS treatments. So, both financially and health-wise – it makes sense.
- Further validate our profession by promoting and conducting research
- To elevate and uphold the highest standards to improve the public perception of aromatherapy
- Expand our portfolio of courses and training to introduce aromatherapy into even more settings and environments
- Expand our portfolio of charity projects to further evidence its effectiveness in hospitals, hospices, in schools and orphanages, at disaster situations and social displacement
What can the public do to help?
- Raise awareness through social media platforms by sharing evidenced based research
- Seek treatments from those that are IFA PSA registered
- Get involved with any surveys we publish
What can therapists do to help?
- Ensure you are registered and regulated by a professional body like the IFA PSA register
- Gain quality assured training and qualifications
- Submit Research Papers
- Submit Case Histories in publications like the Aromatherapy Times (all client data is anonymised)
- Get involved with any surveys we may distribute
If your local practice is in favour of complementary medicine, we recommend that you contact them to make them aware of your services. The NHS has partly funded some surgeries to employ complementary and alternative therapists. In this instance treatments would be provided free to the public or clients referred would then be entitled to a reduced rate for a treatment. In some cases, doctors simply advise patients to see an alternative therapist, so ensure that when you write to your local surgery you explain your credentials, so they fully understand the scope of training you have completed. For IFA registered therapists, templates can be downloaded from the members' area of the IFA website. If your local surgery does not offer complementary medicine, it is likely that in the future it may do so make yourself known to them.