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A: There is no statutory regulation of acupuncture in the UK, which means that in theory anyone is free to practise. In practice, however, all acupuncture practitioners are required to register with their local authorities as skin piercers, and the registration process means that their premises and hygiene standards are subject to inspection, and increasingly more often their training standards.
The legislation in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland which governs this is the Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1982 which requires every practitioner to be registered for every practice in which they work. In Greater London the situation is slightly different. Unless someone belongs to a statutorily regulated profession, like a doctor, dentist or HCPC registered physio or similar, they must hold an annual licence which is much the same as being registered but whereas registration is a one-off process, the licences are renewable annually. The only exception is where a practitioner belongs to an exempt body which meets certain criteria to guarantee standards. The BAcC is such an exempt body.
In Scotland the position is similar to that which obtains in London, except there are no exempt associations, and all BAcC members there have to be licensed.
The BAcC still believes that the public would be best served by the statutory regulation of acupuncture to guarantee that anyone using the title was properly trained, safe, competent and accountable. This would cost money, however, and is unlikely in the short tern because acupuncture is a safe profession, as well as one in which there are relatively few boundary violations.
The BAcC, however, has achieved accreditation in the Professional Standards Authorities accredited voluntary register scheme, and this is widely seen as a form of regulation nearly as valuable as statutory regulation in terms of protecting the public interest.
A: All of our members in practice can be found by looking at the Find a Practitioner function on our home page www.acupuncture.org.uk. The only ones not mentioned are those who are currently in the Non-Practising category which is sometimes used by those members on maternity leave or taking a study break. In one or two cases the details are relatively scant to protect the practitioner from the unwarranted attention of individuals who, sad to say, have stalked them.
The online register also alerts the public to any member who has had any form of disciplinary action taken against them for professional behaviour which has fallen short of our standards. If someone has committed a very serious offence and been struck off the register, they will not of course be viewable there.
If you cannot find the person whose name or details you want to check, our London office staff are more than willing to check the details of a member for you.
Q: I am thinking of studying to become an acupuncturist. I would like to understand what is my best choice if I want to practice in the UK. I am even open to studying in China or Hong Kong, but would like to know whether my qualifications would be accepted in the UK if I did that.
A: We are pleased to hear that you would like to train to become an acupuncturist. We can promise you that if you go ahead and eventually qualify you will find that it gives you a really fulfilling and enjoyable career.
There is no statutory regulation of acupuncture or acupuncturists in the UK, so training is very much up to the individual. The BAcC is the largest body of traditional acupuncturists in the UK, and we offer automatic eligibility for entry to graduates of courses which have been approved by the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board. These can be found at
These courses are all degree level or equivalent, and most take three years. Some are university courses and others are private teaching institutions.
The standards set by the BAAB are also used by the BAcC in entertaining applications from what we call external applicants. If someone trains overseas we need to be sure from transcripts of the course that the training is broadly equivalent. All entrants from this route are required to be interviewed before entry to the BAcC. If you went overseas to train we are sure that the BAcC office could give you a view of whether the training you had was likely to meet our standards.
In practice it is quite difficult to train overseas. The Chinese courses available to westerners are fairly basic, and a full time training in China can take five to seven years. In Hong Kong it is easier to find courses but the standards are very high and unless you are a fluent Cantonese speaker it may be problematic.
There are, of course, other professional associations in the UK and most have feeder courses. These are often slightly shorter, and while they may offer a good basic grounding we take the view that the degree level training is a minimum, especially the year which is almost exclusively given over to clinical training and reflective practice. It is a major responsibility to look after someone's health and well-being in independent practice, i.e. not part of an NHS team, and it is critical that a practitioner has the confidence to deal with whatever comes their way.
All of the reputable teaching bodies will be delighted to talk to you, and most have open days you can attend to see whether what they offer suits you.
Q: I have recently been diagnosed with a condition called spasmodic dysphonia which means that my vocal cords go into spasm when trying to speak. Has anyone come across this and is this something you could help with?
A: There are a very small number of studies such as these
which provide a basis for arguing that a larger scale trial would be useful. However, small scale trials are always problematic when being used in evidence for a form of treatment. Although we are not great fans of the randomised double blind control trial which is often taken as the gold standard for research, the need to take individual and unique variations out of the equation is important, and case studies on this scale can often owe a great deal to extraneous factors.
However, that said, Chinese medicine has a very different way of looking at the functioning of the human body, one which rests on a theory of energy called 'qi' and its flow and circulation around the body. When blockages or deficiencies occur, this can lead to aggravation and symptoms. The Organs of the body as understood by Chinese medicine (always capitalised to differentiate them from a western understanding of organs) have a variety of functions on all levels - body, mind and emotions - some of which may have an impact on the ability to speak. One of the great strengths of Chinese medicine is that each patient is seen as unique and different, and the practitioner will look at all of the systems of the body, as well as all of the circumstances surrounding the onset of the problem, to try to understand the patterns of causation.
Although symptoms can suddenly appear out of nowhere, there are often underlying issues which predispose someone to develop these symptoms. If this were to be the case with your problems, then there may be something in the overall presentation to encourage a practitioner to feel that they may be able to help to sort things out. Given that each case is unique and that research on this condition is sparse, your best bet would be to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment of whether in their view acupuncture treatment might be of benefit. Even when there isn't a clear 'audit trail', the premise of the very old traditional systems was that treating the person and re-establishing balance would surely remove symptoms. This can cause problems in modern practice; it is possible to get rid of a symptom without anyone ever establishing what caused it, which some people find perplexing!
The standard options, such as botulin injections, remain available to you, we imagine, but these offer only temporary relief from the problem. It would be nice to think that acupuncture treatment might offer a more lasting solution, but we have to be realistic and say that if you do choose to have some acupuncture sessions, you should set a very clear review date to make sure that acupuncture doesn't become a habit process. We have known patients to clock up a dozen sessions or more without much change because weekly bookings become a weekly pattern which easily stacks up to a large-ish sum of money.
A: This is quite a collection of serious problems, and although we could probably trawl for evidence of the success of acupuncture in dealing with some of these problems, yours is the kind of case where we feel much more comfortable in talking about the fact that Chinese medicine treats the person, not the condition. From this perspective, although someone may have a variety of symptoms these are not identical with the problem itself, and the art and skill of the practitioner lies in looking at the reported symptoms alongside the diagnostic signs which mean a great deal to the trained eye, and using needles to make the whole system perform better.
In the very ancient systems of Chinese medicine symptoms were recorded but not necessarily addressed directly. The view was symptoms arose because the whole system had gone out of kilter, and addressing the overall balance should remove or reduce the symptoms. Clearly, however, best practice is to be able to help the system as a whole while also providing direct support to specific areas, where this can be done.
Your case is unusual and unique, however, and we would not want to hazard what is almost a guess at what might be possible sight unseen. It really needs someone to have a quick look at what is going on in your system before being able to offer an expert view of what may be possible. A visit to your local BAcC member would be worth your while, simply to get a more informed view.
If you do decide to have treatment and it does not get delivered by a BAcC member, do make sure that the practitioner is careful about the use of swabs and swabbing. If you have had a kidney transplant you are likely to be on powerful immuno-suppressant drugs, and the practitioner must take greater care to minimise the risks of infection which, though small, are nonetheless important to bear in mind.