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UK clinicians urged to prescribe acupuncture to help ease NHS pressures

UK clinicians urged to prescribe acupuncture to help ease NHS pressures

Clinicians in across the UK are being urged by the British Acupuncture Council to consider referring their patients for acupuncture to treat a range of different conditions.

As part of a series of activities to mark the inaugural World Acupuncture Day on Thursday 15 November 2018, acupuncturists will be writing to their GPs to highlight the wealth of evidence showing that acupuncture is a valid healthcare choice.

On Friday (26 Oct) Dan Jarvis MP submitted a written question to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care asking what steps the Department is taking to maintain the provision of acupuncture services within the NHS.

It comes as chronic underfunding and workforce shortages have led to enormous pressure on the NHS with clinicians struggling to meet rising demand.

Head of research at the British Acupuncture Council, Mark Bovey, says Chinese medicine is a viable option and could help the NHS deal with some of the pressures: ‘More than 1,000 studies are carried out globally each year into the effectiveness of acupuncture, so evidence is emerging all the time to show that it works.

‘The evidence is particularly strong in the treatment of pain and, with one in five people in Europe living with moderate to severe chronic pain, acupuncture can make a real difference to patients with low back pain, headache and migraine and osteoarthritis. In some cases it has even been shown to be more effective than pharmaceuticals.

‘Moreover, the world is also grappling with rising problem of opioid addiction, so clinicians have a real opportunity to explore other treatment options for pain.

‘There is also clinical evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating anxiety which research suggests affects up to one in three people, and a whole range of other conditions such as infertility, constipation, rhinitis and depression.

‘If GPs referred patients for acupuncture for just some of these conditions the pressure on the health service would be dramatically alleviated.”

World Acupuncture Day will be officially celebrated in Paris at a global conference in UNESCO House, where more than 1,000 leading health professionals and researchers from around the world will exchange knowledge, skills and practices in acupuncture and moxibustion.

The event will showcase the latest scientific and clinical research that demonstrates the effectiveness of acupuncture in a wide range of conditions.


Notes to Editor

For further information, case studies or interviews, please contact Katie Osborne on 07990 922615 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


The evidence

PAIN: Acupuncture is widely known for its effectiveness in the treatment of pain. For acute pain, a systematic review of 13 trials carried out in 2016 found that acupuncture was more effective than both sham needling and injection with painkillers. (1)

For chronic pain, in the largest study of its kind to date, 454,920 patients were treated with acupuncture for headache, low back pain, and/or osteoarthritis in an open pragmatic trial. Effectiveness was rated as marked or moderate in 76% of cases by the 8,727 treating physicians. (2)

Another study, given in the journal Current Opinion in Anesthesiology and titled ‘Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: an Update and Critical Overview’, concluded that ‘mounting evidence supports the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat chronic low back, neck, shoulder, and knee pain, as well as headaches. Additional data are emerging that support the use of acupuncture as an adjunct or alternative to opioids, and in perioperative settings.’ (3)

ANXIETY: Research suggests that between 1 and 30% of the global population suffers from some form of anxiety. According to the most up-to-date evidence, acupuncture is an effective treatment for anxiety. In 2017, The Acupuncture Evidence Project, co-authored by Dr John McDonald, PhD and Dr Stephen Janz, was published, providing an up-to-date comparative review of the clinical and scientific evidence for acupuncture. (5)

This comprehensive document, updating two previous reviews, determined that acupuncture is moderately effective in treating anxiety according to high level evidence. (6) Their evidence included a 2016 systematic review with over 400 randomised patients which concluded that ‘the effects from acupuncture for treating anxiety have been shown to be significant as compared to conventional treatments’. (7) The largest of these studies, which included 120 randomised patients, found that acupuncture had a large effect on reducing anxiety and depression compared to conventional treatment involving pharmacological approaches and psychotherapy, with over twice the reduction in symptoms. (8)

A more recent systematic review published in 2018 found that all 13 included studies ‘reported an anxiety decrease for their treatment group relative to the control groups’. Three of these studies used pharmaceuticals as controls. (9)

RHINITIS: In recent years reviews have consistently found acupuncture to be effective for allergic rhinitis, both the seasonal and perennial types, and compares favourably with antihistamines. (10)

CONSTIPATION: Much Chinese research in the past has been downgraded due to poor methodology but this has improved in recent years. This very large, multicentre randomised trial, published recently in one of the top western medical journals, showed that electroacupuncture was significantly superior to sham for patients with chronic severe functional constipation. After eight weeks of treatment 31 per cent of the acupuncture group patients had three or more bowel motions per week v 12 per cent for the sham, and the difference was even more marked at the week 20 follow-up. (11)

INFERTILITY: The multiplicity of trials of adjunctive acupuncture with IVF treatment has delivered conflicting and confusing results. This recent meta-analysis shows clearly that different subgroups give different results; in particular, acupuncture delivered during the ovarian hyperstimulation phase is associated with markedly superior IVF results for pregnancy and live birth rates, whereas this is not the case when given during embryo transfer. (12)

DEPRESSION: There have been few trials in the West of acupuncture for mental ill health, fewer still of the size and quality of this one, with 755 patients recruited from primary care. Both acupuncture and counselling produced significantly better depression scores than usual care. (13) About half of the patients also suffered substantially with physical pain and these people did significantly better with acupuncture than counselling. (14)


  • Xiang A, Cheng K, Xu P, & Liu S (nd). The immediate analgesic effect of acupuncture for pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  • Weidenhammer W, Streng A, Linde K, Hoppe A, Melchart D. Acupuncture for chronic pain within the research program of 10 German Health Insurance Funds–basic results from an observational study. Complementary therapies in medicine. 2007;15(4):238-46
  • Yin C, Buchheit TE, & Park JJ (2017). Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current Opinion in Anaesthesiology, 1.
  • Baxter AJ, Scott KM, Vos T, Whiteford HA. Global prevalence of anxiety disorders: a systematic review and meta-regression. Psychological Medicine. 2013; 43:897-910
  • McDonald J, Janz S. The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative Literature Review. Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd. 2017
  • Bazzan AJ, Zabrecky G, Monti DA, Newberg AB. Current evidence regarding the management of mood and anxiety disorders using complementary and alternative medicine. Expert Rev Neurother. 2014;14:411- 23
  • Goyata SL, Avelino CC, Santos SV, Souza Junior DI, Gurgel MD, Terra FS. Effects from acupuncture in treating anxiety: integrative review. Rev Bras Enferm. 2016 Jun;69(3):602-9
  • Arvidsdotter T, Marklund B, & Taft C (2013). Effects of an integrative treatment, therapeutic acupuncture and conventional treatment in alleviating psychological distress in primary care patients–a pragmatic randomized controlled trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 13(1), 308
  • Amorim D, Amado J, Brito I, Fiuza, SM, Clinical, NATI (2018) (nd). Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for anxiety disorders: A systematic review of the clinical research. Elsevier.
  • Taw et al (2015). Acupuncture and allergic rhinitis. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015 Jun;23(3):216-20. doi: 10.1097/MOO.0000000000000161:
  • Lin et al (2016). Acupuncture for chronic severe functional constipation: A Randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2016 Dec 6;165(11):761-769. doi: 10.7326/M15-3118. Epub 2016 Sep 13.
  • Qian et al (2016). Therapeutic effect of acupuncture on the outcomes of in vitro fertilization: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2017 Mar;295(3):543-558. doi: 10.1007/s00404-016-4255-y. Epub 2016 Dec 19.
  • MacPherson et al (2013). Acupuncture and counselling for depression in primary care: a randomised controlled trial. PLoS Med. 2013;10(9):e1001518. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001518. Epub 2013 Sep 24.
  • Hopton et al (2014). Acupuncture, counselling or usual care for depression and comorbid pain: secondary analysis of a randomised controlled trial. BMJ Open. 2014 May 2;4(5):e004964. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-004964.

About the BAcC

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has a membership of nearly 3,000 professionally qualified acupuncturists. It is the UK's largest professional body for the practice of acupuncture. BAcC members practise a traditional, holistic style of acupuncture diagnosis and treatment based on a system developed and refined over 2,000 years. To achieve BAcC membership, practitioners must first undertake extensive training in traditional acupuncture (minimum three years full-time or part-time equivalent), which includes physiology, anatomy and other biomedical sciences appropriate to the practice of acupuncture.

Why use a BAcC practitioner?

Only British Acupuncture Council members belong to a Professional Standards Authority accredited register, providing professional guarantees of safety, education and continuing development (

Look for the letters MBAcC after the name of your acupuncturist to ensure:

  • extensive training – minimum three years degree level – with relevant western medicine including anatomy and physiology
  • adherence to BAcC codes of safe practice and professional conduct
  • compliance with current health and safety legislation
  • full insurance cover for medical malpractice and public/products liability
  • mandatory continuing professional development to keep knowledge and skills up to date
  • postgraduate study of special interests such as pain management and acupuncture for children

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