You can't get crystal healing on the NHS. The Department of Health doesn't fund faith healing. And most doctors believe magnets are best stuck on fridges, not patients. But ask for a treatment in which an expert examines your tongue, smells your skin and tries to unblock the flow of life force running through your body with needles and the NHS will be happy to oblige.

The government declines to say how much the health service spends onacupuncture each year, but it's estimated to be around £25m. The NHS rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), says that doctors can prescribe acupuncture for lower back pain and chronic tension headaches. The NHS Choices website says there is "reasonably good evidence" that acupuncture is effective at treating a range of conditions, including back pain, dental pain, headache, nausea after operations and osteoarthritis of the knee. And there are plenty of anecdotes from patients who swear it works.

Of all the branches of complementary and alternative medicine, acupuncture has without doubt the most credibility among doctors and health officials. Not everyone is convinced, however.