ACC paid out $163 million on alternative therapies and physiotherapy in 2015

Is there a point? The ACC continues to pay out millions of dollars of public money for acupuncture.

Is there a point? The ACC continues to pay out millions of dollars of public money for acupuncture.

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) spent $54m on alternative therapies last year despite a lack of scientific evidence the treatments work.

Alternative therapies included chiropractic, osteopathy and acupuncture, and payouts have increased by more than $36m since 2003.

Although physiotherapy cost the ACC $109m last year and remains the most popular therapy choice, acupuncture has surged in popularity since 2004. The ACC paid out $26m for acupuncture last year, an increase of $21.9m since 2004.

Society for Science Based Healthcare chairman Mark Hanna said the ACC was spending tens of millions of dollars each year on treatments that weren't supported by evidence.

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Ins and outs of acupuncture

"Everyone has the right to make informed choices about their own healthcare. But when it's public money that's being spent, it's important that we have a good reason to expect the treatment to help," he said.

"We're disappointed that ACC will pay for treatments that aren't supported by the available evidence."

Hanna said the ACC carried out reviews on the scientific literature on alternate therapies such as acupuncture and most of their findings were negative or inconclusive.

New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) chairman Dr Stephen Child said there was a global increase in the use of alternative therapies. One reason for this was doctors over-diagnosed patients.

Alternative therapies are not regulated or credible because they haven't been scientifically verified.

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"Worldwide, one of the fastest growing business is the alternative healthcare industry," Child said.

"Thirty years ago you were a little bit stressed, now we have a name for it. Thirty years ago your blood sugar was a little bit high, and now you're a pre-diabetic.

"EFT (emotional freedom therapy) and reiki are not regulated by the government and there is insufficient evidence available to show effectiveness of those therapies." 

But Acupuncture NZ president Paddy McBride said there was growing scientific evidence acupuncture worked. 

"I think it's here to stay. It's been around for a very long time and it's a very sophisticated system of health care," she said. 

The NZ School of Acupuncture was currently running a masters course in the treatment and two members of Acupuncture NZ had completed their PhD studies in acupuncture.

The ACC said it contributed a set rate towards the cost of a range of different treatments and recognised clients' rights to have a choice about what treatment will best meet their rehabilitation goals.

ACC Minister Nikki Kaye said acupuncturists, chiropractors and osteopaths were all defined as treatment providers under ACC legislation.

"In deciding whether to fund a particular treatment, ACC takes into account a number of factors, including the advice and clinical experience of health professionals who have referred the client for treatment, and the client's view on what they believe is the best treatment for them," Kaye said.

"To provide some context, ACC spent around $1.5 billion on treatment costs overall last year."

Labour declined to comment on the ACC payout.

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