Acupuncture practice sector trends

Person in brown towel lying face down receiving acupuncture on their back

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the complementary and alternative medicine sector

Recent years have seen a huge increase in interest in, and use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), for a number of reasons:

  • GPs have little time to devote to their patients and in some areas getting an appointment is difficult
  • conventional healthcare has become more impersonal
  • patients are concerned about the increasing use of powerful drugs
  • many chronic conditions such as low back pain, asthma, arthritis and similar ailments do not respond satisfactorily to conventional treatment
  • patients are better informed and more willing to try alternative therapies
  • complementary therapists are providing an increasingly professional service
  • the medical profession has acknowledged the benefit to patients of providing both conventional and complementary treatment and acupuncture treatment has become increasingly available under the NHS
  • the number of complementary therapists has grown, so that people can more easily access them

The five most common therapies are acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic, herbalism and homeopathy. Currently only certain professions are regulated by law. Some years ago the government stated that acupuncture and herbal medicine should also be regulated by statute and an Acupuncture Regulatory Working Group was set up to establish the best way of achieving this. In June 2008 the Department of Health Steering Group on the Regulation of Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine recommended that acupuncturists should be statutorily regulated at some point. It had been hoped that this would take place during 2009. In February 2011 the government announced that the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) would become the statutory regulator for practitioners of herbal medicine at some point in the future. The government decided not to go ahead after all with statutory regulation for acupuncturists because voluntary regulation is in place that works well.

In May 2013 the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) wrote to the Department of Health, formally raising their concern over the lack of progress towards statutory regulation of herbalists. In February 2014 the Herbal Medicines and Practitioners Working Group (HMPWG) set up by the government to explore the issue of herbal practitioner and product regulation met for the first time. The final report of the HMPWG was released in March 2015. To the dismay of many in the profession, the report recommended that statutory regulation should not go ahead after all. Instead a voluntary register for herbal medicine practitioners should be set up which could seek accreditation from the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) in due course.

The Welsh Government aims to introduce a licensing scheme for acupuncturists in Wales by April 2020. This will mean that acupuncturists must obtain a licence and their premises will need to be approved.

Keeping up to date with developments

There are a number of associations representing the interests of acupuncture practitioners. The largest body is the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) which is accredited by the Professional Standards Authority and which maintains standards of education, ethics, practice and discipline and promotes research. Contact the BAcC at 63 Jeddo Road, London W12 9HQ.

The British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) represents medical and dental practitioners with an interest in practising acupuncture, either in general practice or in hospital. BMAS, BMAS House, 3 Winnington Court, Winnington Street, Northwich, Cheshire CW8 1AQ.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is responsible for regulating the supply of herbal medicines in the UK.

Other organisations of interest to acupuncture practitioners include:

  • the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture UK (ATCM)
  • the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC)
  • the Society of Auricular Acupuncturists
  • the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM)

The Journal of Chinese Medicine (JCM) includes theoretical and clinical articles on all forms of Chinese medicine, including acupuncture. You can find out more on the JCM website.

Visit each organisation's website for details of their activities.

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