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British Acupuncture Council calls for corrections to Guardian article on Chinese Medicine

British Acupuncture Council calls for corrections to Guardian article on Chinese Medicine

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has written to the editor of the Guardian newspaper requesting corrections to an article it published on 6th November.

The article, entitled ‘Doctors call for tighter regulation of traditional Chinese medicine’, makes assertions about the safety of acupuncture which the BAcC claim are misleading.

Among the claims is that a systematic review in 2017 on the safety of acupuncture found “many injuries, infections and adverse events”. This, according to the BAcC is a substantial misrepresentation of the evidence.

Research manager, Mark Bovey, said: “The Guardian article appears to have been written with little understanding of the science involved in investigating medical adverse events. It is impossible to establish the significance of the number of adverse events reported without knowing how many treatments they came from. The 17 reviews included in the overview covered literature from 1950 to 2014 from around the world, so potentially millions and millions of treatments. No wonder they turned up plenty of incidents.”

He added: “Reviews have in fact suggested that adverse events are rare and often minor when conducted among licensed, qualified practitioners in the West.”
Members of the British Acupuncture Council belong to a Professional Standards Authority (PSA) accredited register, providing professional guarantees of safety, education and continuing professional development (professionalstandards.org.uk).

To become a BAcC member, acupuncturists must have a minimum of three years training at degree level, which includes anatomy and physiology; must adhere to BAcC codes of safe practice and professional conduct, must comply with current health and safety legislation and must undertake mandatory continuing professional development to keep their knowledge and skills up to date.

A copy of an abridged version of the letter can be seen below. You can download a full copy of the letter at the foot of the page.

Dear Editor

Re: Guardian article ‘Doctors call for tighter regulation of traditional Chinese medicine’, published 6 November 2019.

We request you correct the misleading comments about the safety of acupuncture made in the article and publish this letter online.

1. 'And acupuncture, they will say, “is not necessarily harmless.”’
Yes, of course, hence the need for proper training, evidenced guidelines, a robust code of safe practice and regulatory teeth. These are all in place for members of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC). Acupuncture is not statutorily regulated in the UK precisely because of its safety; instead, the BAcC, accredited by the Professional Standards Authority, is entrusted with self-regulation.

2. ‘…A review in 2017 found many injuries, infections and adverse reactions.'

This is a substantial misrepresentation of the acupuncture safety overview paper (Chan 2017) referred to in the doctors’ statement, which concluded: 'However, all the reviews have suggested that adverse events are rare and often minor.'

Incidence rates for adverse events (AEs) come from large prospective surveys, not reviews of reported cases. UK and German surveys with three million treatments confirm that serious AEs after acupuncture are uncommon. There were no deaths or permanent disabilities, all those with AEs fully recovered. ‘Thus, it can be concluded that acupuncture has a very low rate of AEs, when conducted among licensed, qualified practitioners in the West.’ (Xu 2013).

Another major limitation was that no causality could be determined. There is often no evidence to link acupuncture to the reported event.

Crucially, your article doesn’t consider how acupuncture compares to other treatment options. For chronic pain the evidence suggests it is both effective and safe, which cannot be said of opioids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

This is not to downplay the potential harms of acupuncture, for they can be serious, but as with any medical intervention there should be a proper assessment of how likely this is, which the Guardian article signally failed to do.

Yours sincerely

Mark Bovey

Research Manager
British Acupuncture Council

--ENDS--

Notes to editor

For further information on acupuncture, 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.

For a full list of British Acupuncture Council press releases visit the newsroom.

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.

Traditional acupuncture

Traditional acupuncture as practised by members of the BAcC is based on Chinese medicine principles that have been developed, researched and refined for over 2,000 years. Traditional acupuncture is holistic, not focused on isolated symptoms. It regards pain and illness, whether physical or mental, to be a sign the whole body is out of balance. Western or medical acupuncture is a more recent development practised predominantly by doctors and physiotherapists, who use acupuncture techniques within their existing scope of practice on the basis of a western medical diagnosis. There is a growing body of evidence showing how effective acupuncture is in a range of conditions:

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 (professionalstandards.org.uk)

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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Press Contact

Katie Osborne

Tel: 07990 922615