Yoga, pet and music therapy are being offered at public hospitals, with one district health board spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on alternative treatments for mental health patients.
Capital & Coast DHB spent $270,389 in the past two financial years on providing alternative therapies, according to information released to the Sunday Star-Times under the Official Information Act.
It includes $23,040 on fitness therapy for four forensic mental health patients. The same amount was spent on 20 forensic patients having pet therapy and $31,680 on music therapy for four to eight patients.
Mental health clinical director Nigel Fairley said the recognised therapies were part of a "holistic approach" for patients.
"Yoga can be effective for reducing stress and anxiety, while animal-assisted therapy is good for clients who find great comfort in their health and emotional wellbeing through interaction with animals."
Natural Medicine Association vice-president and registered nurse Joe Sutich said most DHBs were nervous about spending public money on natural or alternative therapies, which are self-regulated.
"You're dealing with institutionalisation where they're always thinking they know best. They haven't got broad enough minds to include alternative therapies to get better clinical outcomes for patients.
"Unfortunately there are people out there who call themselves natural therapists and they do all sorts of heebie-jeebie things and give us all a bad name."
Waitemata DHB contracted massage and acupuncture therapists for staff and patients. It would not provide the cost or the number of people referred to these services in the past two years.
Whanganui Hospital trialled a free natural therapy clinic last year to staff, offering a range of services including Christian prayer, reiki and massage.
The DHB spent $4777 on seeking legal opinions on the clinic, which treated 75 staff before the three-month trial ended early after emergency medicine specialist Chris Cresswell linked the clinic to witchcraft and wizardry.
Canterbury DHB "had no record" of contracting natural or alternative therapists, but said it had an issue in Burwood Hospital about two years ago with an acupuncturist and personal trainer being contracted by a family without approval.
Lakes DHB contributed $130,051 to three rongoa Maori traditional healing service providers, who treated both Maori and non-Maori in the past two years. Services included mirimiri (massage) and access was by self-referral, chief executive Ron Dunham said.
The Ministry of Health recognises Maori healing practices, which include rakau rongoa (native fauna herbal preparations), mirimiri and karakia (prayer).
Last week in Parliament, NZ First leader Winston Peters questioned the checks and balances around rongoa services, which received $7.6 million over the past four years.
Hutt Valley DHB did not respond to Fairfax's request for information, and the remaining 16 DHBs had not contracted natural or alternative therapists in the past two years.
- Sunday Star Times