Steep rise in use of massage to aid recovery at Hampstead hospital

New figures have revealed the use of complementary therapy at the Royal Free Hospital has multiplied by several thousands over the past 16 years.

Clinical massages and reflexology sessions at the hospital in Pond Street, Hampstead, have risen from 60 in 1994 to 21,289 in the year 2010-2011.

The largest group of patients making use of the treatments are those suffering from cancer, blood disorders and neurological conditions, as well as the elderly and those with kidney disease.

The 15 minute long bedside visits are undertaken by clinically trained volunteers, who are all qualified therapists, following a referral by in-house medical staff.

Keith Hunt, the hospital’s coordinator of complementary services, who lives in Albert Street, Camden, thinks the steep rise in treatments can be attributed to doctors and nurses being more aware of the service and having developed trust in it.

“Every consultant in the building now uses our service,” Mr Hunt said.

“The doctors and nurses look after the disease, we look after the person behind the disease.”

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The treatments help patients relax and de-stress and Mr Hunt believes prescribed drugs work better when individuals receive a de-stressing massage.

Since April this year the focus has been on providing more complementary therapy to elderly patients and sessions have risen from 145 in 2010-2011 to 1,325 this year.

People suffering from cancer were the largest group making use of the service with 2,863 treatments carried out this year, followed by patients with blood disorders who have benefitted from 2,707 sessions.

But some departments have seen a fall in treatments, including pregnant woman who had 681 treatments compared to 1,006 last year.

Mr Hunt said priorities were given to those patients who seemed in greater need.

When the service was first set up, it was only offered to cancer patients and to members of staff, but the team now treat anyone, from young people with eating disorders to individuals receiving end of life care.

The doctors dictate which body parts can receive treatment, but usually the volunteers work on feet, legs, hands and faces.

The service is funded through the Royal Free charity and donations by private individuals.

The service runs with one full-time employee, four part time members of staff and 17 volunteers, and the therapists are aged from 23 to 68.

“This work is very addictive,” said Mr Hunt. “When you see the smiles on little old ladies’ faces or young people that you know are going through a hard time or anybody that’s incarcerated in the hospital – you know we can be just that link, just that gentle link into reality and having something really nice.”