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Complementary therapy (CT) has become increasingly popular with the general public and interest from the health professions has been rising. There has been no study focusing on the pattern of availability of CT within urban and inner-city general practice. We aimed to describe the prevalence and pattern of access to complementary therapy in this setting, identifying the characteristics of practices offering CT and the perceived barriers to service provision. We sent a postal questionnaire to all 254 general practices on the Birmingham Family Health Services Authority list. Practices were asked whether they offered any access to CTs, how services were organized and which therapies were available and to identify any barriers to provision. 175 practices (68.9%) responded. Half of the practices offered access to CT. Of these, half offered an in-house service, usually provided by the doctor (81.8%). Of GPs practising therapies themselves, 58% began in or after 1990. Seventeen separate therapies were offered, most commonly acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic, hypnotherapy and homoeopathy. Practices significantly more likely to offer access to CT were of larger list size and training or teaching practices. They were equally likely to be fundholders or non-fundholders. Practices offering an in-house service tended to be fundholding, training and of larger list size. Finance was perceived as the major barrier. In the area studied, many patients now have some access to CT within primary care, often within their own practice. In the main, therapies offered are the 'medically acceptable face' of complementary medicine.