Since the British Acupuncture Council was formed in 1995 we have worked hard to raise political awareness and recognition of the acupuncture profession. This has involved planning, negotiating and implementing strategies for effective regulation.
A brief history
In1999 the Acupuncture Regulatory Working Group (ARWG), in which the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) played a major role, moved statutory regulation to centre stage. Several other working and steering groups have been convened since. All have considered how best to regulate acupuncture and herbal medicine, and all have recommended statutory regulation as an urgent priority.
In his House of Commons statement of 16 February 2011, the Secretary of State recognised that acupuncture is 'robustly self-regulated'. While we welcome this endorsement of the BAcC's work over the years, this statement has raised a number of issues, both for the public and for our members.
Some Chinese herbal medical practitioners who also use acupuncture may soon be state registered, whereas other practitioners who practise acupuncture only, will not. This is likely to lead to public and patients being confused in their choice of acupuncture provider.
The proposed statutory regulation of Chinese herbal medicine practitioners could also give them an unfair competitive advantage in certain areas, including:
- local authority licensing and registration: with no national standard in place, there is currently wide variation in the level of fees payable by acupuncturists to environment health officers. We regard these fees as an unnecessary burden which should be waived for BAcC members nationwide, as is already the case in London. We understand that fees may be waived if state regulation is in place.
- NHS commissioning: we would like BAcC members to have similar opportunities to bid for relevant NHS services as state regulated providers
- blood donation: currently the requirement from the National Blood Service is that acupuncture patients who donate blood can only do so if their acupuncturist is state registered. We would like all patients who use BAcC members' services to be able to give blood.
Our future strategy
The BAcC remains fully committed to pursuing statutory regulation. Our standards and aspirations more than meet those of other regulated bodies and we are convinced that we deserve to stand alongside them.
The BAcC believes it has a significant and expanding contribution to make to national healthcare delivery. The recent inclusion of acupuncture in the NICE guidelines on the treatment of lower back pain demonstrates how BAcC members could significantly and increasingly benefit healthcare provision.
The BAcC regularly meets with the Department of Health regarding its activities and recently met with the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence to discuss engaging with its process of taking on voluntary registers.
We believe that:
- BAcC members could have a potentially invaluable role in supporting the NHS in the delivery of health and wellbeing and active self-management1
- the public should have the opportunity to choose acupuncture as part of NHS prevention provision and be able to receive advice and treatment from BAcC registered acupuncturists
- acupuncture should be an option within personal budgets and as part of care co-ordination.
The BAcC believes that the proposed new commissioning consortia in England and the NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should have the opportunity to fund services such as acupuncture at the request of their patients, to improve mental and physical health.
The BAcC hopes that commissioning arrangements across the UK will permit individual acupuncturists and consortia of acupuncturists to provide services in the NHS without undue bureaucratic burden.
House of Commons Statement
Practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine
Wednesday 16 February 2011
The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): The issue of whether or not practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine should be statutorily regulated has been debated since the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology's report in 2000 recommended statutory regulation for the first two of these groups.
We have today published an analysis of the 2009 consultation by the four United Kingdom Health Departments which sought views on the possible regulation of practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. This factual report has been placed in the Library and can be found on the Department of Health's website at: DH website
Copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.
I can now set out how we intend to take forward the regulation of herbal medicine practitioners and traditional Chinese medicines practitioners, specifically with regard to the use of unlicensed herbal medicines within their practice. As this matter is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland we have had discussions with Health Departments in the three Devolved Administrations which have been constructive and we are committed to a unified UK-wide approach to the regulation of these practitioners.
When the European Directive 2004/24/EC takes full effect in April 2011 it will no longer be legal for herbal practitioners in the UK to source unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines for their patients. This Government wishes to ensure that the public can continue to have access to these products.
In order to achieve this, while at the same time complying with EU law, some form of statutory regulation will be necessary and I have therefore decided to ask the Health Professions Council to establish a statutory register for practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines. This will ensure that practitioners meet specified registration standards. Practitioner regulation will be underpinned by a strengthened system for regulating medicinal products. This approach will give practitioners and consumers continuing access to herbal medicines. It will do this by allowing us to use a derogation in the European legislation to set up a UK scheme to permit and regulate the supply, via practitioners, of unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines to meet individual patient needs.
The Health Professions Council is an established and experienced statutory regulatory body which has the necessary experience to be able to successfully establish and maintain a statutory register for practitioners wishing to supply unlicensed herbal medicines. Subject to Parliamentary approval, such practitioners who wish to supply unlicensed herbal products will be required by law to register with the HPC.
The four UK Health Departments will consult jointly on the draft legislation once it is prepared. This will give practitioners and the public the opportunity to comment. Subject to Parliamentary procedures we will aim to have the legislation in place in 2012.
Until the new arrangements are in place the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will continue to take appropriate compliance and enforcement action where products are in breach of the regulatory requirements. In line with the MHRA's normal approach, the action taken will be proportionate and will target products which pose a public health risk. Guidance issued by the MHRA makes clear their view that, where practitioners hold stocks of unlicensed products on 30 April 2011 that legally benefited from transitional arrangements under the European Directive, the practitioner can continue to sell those existing supplies to their patients.
The 2009 consultation also looked at practitioners of acupuncture. The practice of acupuncture is not affected by the EU Directive and, therefore, compliance is not required. I am confident that acupuncturists have their own voluntary regulatory measures in place, which are sufficiently robust. Additionally, local authorities in England have powers to regulate the hygiene of the practice of acupuncture, to protect against the risk of transmission of certain infectious diseases. Similar measures are also in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I am pleased to say that this decision resolves a long-standing issue, to the benefit of both practitioners and the public who use herbal medicines.