Background: A representative sample of the adults in England, Scotland and Wales was interviewed to estimate levels of use of complementary or alternative medicines (CAMs) and their socio-economic correlates.
Methods: The Omnibus survey is a multi-purpose survey carried out in the United Kingdom by the Office for National Statistics on behalf of non-profit making organizations. The survey is carried out in 2 out of 3 months each quarter using a stratified random, probability sample of households. An eight-question module was added to the interview schedule of the survey in March 2001. Topics included practitioner-based use of 23 named CAM therapies in the past 12 months. The resulting data were analysed in conjunction with socio-economic and demographic variables.
Results: A response rate of 65 per cent (1794/2761) was achieved. An estimated 10.0 per cent of the population [95 per cent confidence interval (CI) 8.7-11.5 per cent] had received any CAM therapy from a practitioner in the past year. No individual therapy was used by more than 2 per cent of the sample. An estimated 6.5 per cent (95 per cent CI 5.4-7.6) had used one of the five main therapies: acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, osteopathy or herbal medicine. Estimates of CAM use were similar in England, Scotland and Wales. There was a significant positive association between CAM use and non-manual social class (p < 0.002), age left full-time education (p < 0.001), and gross income over pounds sterling 15,600 (p < 0.001). More than half (52 per cent) of the respondents that had used CAM in the past year had not told their general practitioner.
Conclusions: Strong correlations between the use of CAM and gross socio-economic indicators are demonstrated in the survey. Repeated national surveys of this type could provide a useful vehicle for collecting information about changing patterns of CAM use on a routine basis.