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Essential Oils in Primary Care Trusts

The increasing use of essential oils and aromatherapy techniques in Primary Care and NHS Trusts

Written by Duncan Bain, Natural Touch Aromatherapy 
Duncan Bain has been involved with aromatherapy for many years. He has a special interest in blending and discovering new oils. He has a strong commitment to education and has qualifications in chemistry and botany of essential oils.

A recent survey by The Times revealed that three quarters of people would like to see complementary therapies available on the NHS. Yet only a small minority can currently access free complementary therapies through NHS referrals.

The general public has an appetite for alternatives to conventional medical treatment. The big question for decision and policy makers within government, healthcare and CAM is how to integrate complementary therapies with conventional healthcare.

There are considerable scientific, professional and practical difficulties around integration. The scientific difficulty centres on proof. Many GPs and academics are reluctant to embrace CAM because of concerns about the lack of evidence. The lack of formal rigorous scientific trials remains an issue.

Many health professionals also still think of as aromatherapy as a somewhat ‘soft’ therapy, particularly when linked with therapeutic and cosmetic massage.  Without a sound scientific and clinical base, its contribution to healthcare has until recently been limited.

Yet in recent years, there has been a fast evolution as aromatherapy follows a more scientific and clinical path yet retains its holistic heritage. Increasing numbers of qualified nurses and midwives have added aromatherapy training to their skills.  More doctors and hospital managements are turning to complementary therapies (CTs) to supplement the healthcare they offer. That said some Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and NHS Hospital Trusts, remain resistant.

At the same time, patients are becoming disenchanted with conventional medicine. The Times survey found that 10% of people turn to CTs because they have lost faith in conventional approaches. Hardly surprising, given increasing media exposure of the failure of widely prescribed drugs in many cases and well-documented side effects. Also growing numbers of patients are aware that CTs may be available if they ask.

Just as important is the push by nurses, midwives and therapists for CTs to be more widely available. They are becoming more experienced and benefit from training based on more scientific and clinical foundations. Evidence is available from real life hospital experiences that essential oils and aromatherapy treatments not only benefit patients, but may result in substantial savings in hospital budgets through the reduced use of pharmaceutical drugs in certain areas.

The ultimate referral by the doctor is the key and, the more confidence doctors have, the more they are likely to grant permission to treat using CTs. The GMC states that ‘Doctors may delegate treatment to non-medical practitioners as long as they are satisfied of their competence and that they continue to maintain overall clinical responsibility’.

Medical staff from all areas are referring patients to nurse-therapists for treatment. Some family practices are good examples of fully integrated NHS primary care service with patients offered courses of treatments, including aromatherapy, in the same way as orthodox treatment. More hospitals are encouraging aromatherapy treatments and a significant number are using essential oils in controlled research projects in a variety of situations. Undoubtedly confidence is growing.

At Natural Touch Aromatherapy we believe that the next five years will see a significant leap forward in the use of truly integrated medicine using essential oils and aromatherapy techniques in our NHS hospitals. The interest in the subject from nurses and their desire to learn more about the oils and their chemistry, is a driving force behind this. Qualifications in clinical aromatherapy, including botany and chemistry of essential oils, are available from Natural Touch Aromatherapy and run in conjunction with our sister company The Raworth College. These are ‘distance learning’ courses, allowing nurses to fit additional training into their busy careers.

Some examples of hospitals and other areas of care, which are already active in integrated medicine, specifically the use of essential oils follow. The list is not exhaustive and apologies to those not mentioned.

Natural Touch Essential Oils, which are tested independently at the Scottish Agricultural College and other independent test centres, are all guaranteed, consistently, 100% pure. They all are offered with a purity analysis certificate. Natural Touch Essential Oils are used in some, but not all, of the examples of aromatherapy activity listed below.


Over 70% of cancer centres in the UK offer at least one CT and Aromatherapy is the most commonly practised in palliative care for cancer patients. Aromatherapy massage and relaxation treatments are offered to both patients and staff at the Hammersmith, Charing Cross and Royal Marsden hospitals.

The Neil Cliff Cancer Centre has a comprehensive aromatherapy support service in place using essential oils and offers aromatherapy education for home use to its patients. The adult Leukemia unit at The Christie Hospital NHS, Manchester has two aromatherapists who offer support to patients, predominantly to improve the quality of life in a highly stressful environment. The unit is also carrying out long term research into essential oils and testing their effectiveness in a number of conditions and hospital situations.

Aromatherapy and Hospice Care

There are increasing examples where an aromatherapist is employed by a hospice trust. This started some years ago, initially instigated by the IFA’s ‘in care’ scheme.
At the Oakhaven Hospice in Lymington, Hants, essential oils are used to promote improved quality of life and to provide help with such conditions as nausea, anxiety and depression, stiff and aching joints, as well as pain. A holistic approach is used for the aromatherapy treatments used to enhance mood.

Great care is taken to complement the treatments individuals may be receiving, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and this may result in partial massage such as hands and feet, or neck and shoulders only, as well as olfactory introduction.

Using Aromatherapy for Effective Pain Management

There is increasing evidence that aromatherapy may offer a positive contribution as part of an integrated health approach to chronic pain management, a major challenge facing health care providers.

For seven years aromatherapy massage has been a key treatment strategy at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, for example, in the management of chronic pain in sufferers of multiple sclerosis. Sufferers appear to obtain some symptomatic relief of pain and other benefits including improved sleep, relaxation, improved joint mobility and a sense of well being.

Intensive Care

This is one of the first instances of aromatherapy being used in a medical environment, predominantly with massage to reduce patient stress levels. Studies demonstrating these benefits have been conducted and reported on in the intensive care and coronary care units at the Middlesex Hospital, the Battle Hospital, Reading and the Royal Sussex County hospitals.

Using Aromatherapy in Midwifery

Aromatherapy has been practiced in the midwifery and obstetrics sector for a number of years.  It is well-established practice, run mainly by midwife-aromatherapists.  The John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford has operated an aromatherapy service since 1990. A survey was carried out by the hospital involving some 8,000 women. It concluded that 50% of women who used aromatherapy during labour found it effective in the reduction of fear and anxiety.

Other areas

Aromatherapy plays a role in many other environments. Working with deaf and deaf-blind; with autism; attention deficit hyperactive disorder; and with addictions. Care of the elderly and mental health are areas where aromatherapy is widely used. Details on both is available in Today’s Therapist March/April issue and not covered here.


To what extent CTs will be further integrated into the NHS depends on the attitudes of those who organize and provide the funding for PCTs. A soon-to-be published DoH survey is expected to show that a third of Trusts are funding complementary therapy.

In addition a combination of factors including government focus on patient choice and the pressure on NHS trusts to be accountable to local people means it’s likely that extra budget will become available for the integration of CTs.

While these pressures are important, at Natural Touch we also believe that nurses and aromatherapists in the NHS will, through their own efforts, gain the confidence of doctors, as aromatherapy continues to display sound achievements and a more scientific pedigree.


Duncan J Bain

Natural Touch Aromatherapy  Tel 01329 835550   Fax 01329 835559
E mail:

Acknowledgements: Thanks for contributions to Rhiannon Harris, Linda Blackburn, Kevin Wilson, Gillian Anstey, Ann Whithear, Janina Johns

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