The National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) was established to provide leadership and support for strategically directed research into complementary medicine and translation of evidence into clinical practice and relevant policy to benefit the health of all Australians.
The establishment of NICM follows the 2003 recommendation by the Expert Committee on Complementary Medicines in the Australian Health System that the government has a social responsibility to fund complementary medicine research given the high community use of complementary medicines and therapies.
NICM was originally established with bi-partisan support from the Federal and NSW Governments in 2007. Hosted by the Western Sydney University, NICM provides leadership and support for strategically directed research into complementary medicine and helps translate evidence into clinical practice and relevant policy to benefit the health of all Australians.
During its first three years of operation NICM established three Collaborative Centres with additional industry funding, demonstrated the cost effectiveness of a range of complementary medicine interventions in collaboration with Access Economics, funded several integrative healthcare pilot studies and has provided a vital link between researchers, practitioners, industry and government.
The Collaborative Centres have supported the professional development of 17 HDR (PhD and Masters) students and 21 postdoctoral fellows and research associates. NICM has made significant progress in advancing a collaborative approach to complementary medicine research aligned with national health priorities. It has also established a reputation as an independent, authoritative voice for the complementary medicine sector.
From 2012-14 NICM focused on guiding sector reform, including creating better incentives to invest in research and improved integration of evidence-based interventions into mainstream practice.
The Institute will continue to identify and refine national research priorities, contribute to the development of clinical practice guidelines and work alongside government, consumers, industry and other stakeholders to strengthen relevant policy.
Support for NICM as an independent national agency for policy development and research leadership in complementary medicine remains strong.
Western Sydney University
Western Sydney University is spread over six campuses in Western Sydney. It has a dynamic research culture with multidisciplinary research undertaken across a range of areas including culture, society, health and the environment.
Western Sydney University has been a long-term supporter of research and education in complementary medicine. The Centre for Complementary Medicine Research (CompleMED) was established in 2001 and is now recognised internationally for world-class research in traditional Chinese Medicine. The University's visionary leadership in complementary medicine research was highlighted when it decided to host the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), established in 2007 by the Federal and NSW state governments and now incorporating CompleMED. Western Sydney University will continue to be a key driver of complementary medicine research and education.
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Complementary medicine at a glance
The complementary medicine (CM) sector is an important contributor to the Australian economy. Industry revenue is currently $3.5 billion and is expected to grow to $4.6 billion in 2017–18. Over this period, employment is anticipated to rise to 45,000. It is estimated that 2 in 3 Australians use CM each year and 42% do so to prevent or manage chronic conditions identified as national health priorities. This is one of the highest consumption rates per capita in developed nations.1
These high usage rates have lead to 90 percent of medical practitioners expressing an interest in increasing their understanding of CM. There is also growing evidence that CM can make a significant, cost-effective contribution to chronic (non-communicable) diseases. There is a need to strengthen this evidence and identify and utilise validated interventions.
Australia has significant strengths in complementary medicine research. However, there is a pressing need to build critical mass and better co-ordinate research effort.
The National Health and Medical Research Council 2013-2015 Strategic Plan includes a focus on health practices which are currently not based on sturdy evidence, and prioritises research into such practices and therapies. This continues the Council's focus on examining the evidence underlying the alternative medicines most highly used in order to provide advice to assist informed decision-making and improved self-management.
1 Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA). In good health: Complementary medicines industry survey. 2014. Available here (opens in a new window).