How is acupuncture regulated in the UK?

Because of the diversity of techniques, methods, and opinions around acupuncture and its practice in the UK, the safety and regulation of acupuncture practices in the UK is a concern. All healthcare practices are tightly regulated by authorities responsible for ensuring that men and women receiving care are given the best and safest treatment possible. In this article we look at how acupuncture is regulated in the UK.

Is there any statutory regulation of acupuncture in the UK?

Unlike medical practitioners, acupuncturists in the UK are not subject to statutory regulation. This type of regulation is a basic legal requirement for doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, podiatrists, and countless other healthcare professions. As acupuncturists are not considered healthcare workers in the UK, they are not required by law to register with an appropriate authority like the GMC (General Medical Council) or HPC (Health and Care Professions Council).

This may be considered an issue in some circles as acupuncturists are responsible for administering needles into the body. Such an invasive procedure does carry with it risks of blood borne infections for example, and as such some would argue that more stringent regulatory methods should be in place for acupuncturists.

What regulation is there of acupuncture in the UK?

Acupuncturists in the UK can join a number of organisations on a voluntary basis, and these require that acupuncturists attain certain qualifications and the like to ensure that they are adequately trained and can practice their craft to a high standard. These organisations require practitioners to abide by a code of conduct as one of their membership conditions, and in return offer membership as an indication to the public that a particular acupuncturist has attained a certain level of qualification.

Members of the public can look for accredited members of these organisation through each respective institution’s websites, another advantage offered to members in that their services are more likely to be employed by members of the public looking for acupuncture that comes with a certain level of assurance as to its quality.

Examples of organisations that offer membership and its benefits to acupuncturists in the UK are:

  • British Acupuncture Council (BAcC)
  • Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP)
  • British Register of Complementary Practitioners (BRCP)
  • The British medical Acupuncture Society
  • British Academy of Western Medical Acupuncture (BAWMA)

At present the lack of evidence to support acupuncture as a valid method of treatment for many of the conditions that acupuncturists purport to treat is one of the obstacles towards statutory regulation. Until acupuncture is proven to be a viable treatment method it is unlikely that the practice will be held to the same standards as other healthcare professions.

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