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GPs and other clinicians should consider prescribing acupuncture to treat chronic pain in order to reduce death rates from opioid addiction, according to the British Acupuncture Council.

Head of research, Mark Bovey, was responding to calls by the Scottish Government’s lead clinician, Professor Blair Smith, for more ‘rational prescribing’ of opioids.

Research by Professor Smith has revealed that prescriptions for ‘strong’ opioids in Scotland, including fentanyl, morphine and oxycodone more than doubled between 2003 and 2012 to more than 1 million a year. The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland rose to a record 934 in 2017.


16th July 2018
Elderly patients with co-morbidities should be referred for regular acupuncture sessions to help reduce pressure on the NHS, the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) says.

The comments follow a systematic review, published in BMJ Open, which showed that continuity of care resulted in ‘significantly fewer deaths’ among patients and halved the risk of an emergency hospital admission.
The BAcC claims that the ‘continuity of patient-centred care’ provided by regular acupuncture, delivered by the same practitioner, over a considerable period of time helps relieve symptoms, reduce medication and improve wellbeing of elderly patients, therefore reducing their risk of hospital admission.

Mark Bovey, research manager at the BAcC, says there is significant evidence suggesting acupuncture is effective in relieving pain in conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and other musculoskeletal complaints and acupuncturists could be playing a much bigger role: 'National health services across the developed world are struggling to cope with increasing numbers of old people with chronic illnesses. Conventional health and social care resources are overstretched and polypharmacy is rife, with its attendant side effects and interaction complications. Acupuncture could offer a useful additional resource.'
He highlights a report, Long-Term Acupuncture Therapy for Low-Income Older Adults with Multimorbidity: A Qualitative Study of Patient Perceptions, which was carried out in California last year and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

The qualitative study, which involved 15 patients aged 60 years and older suffering from at least two chronic conditions, showed that a substantial number of participants were able to reduce their medication and maintain physical and mental health. In addition, they developed a strong trust in the clinic’s ability to support the totality of their health as individuals, which they contrasted to the specialised and impersonal approach of conventional medicine.
'What is perhaps most interesting,' Bovey comments, 'is how the acupuncture clinic became the main health hub for these people. They were diagnosed and treated, there was social and emotional support, practical advice and referral to other community resources. This was a one-stop, holistic service, the sort of coordinated care model that the NHS is striving for, and patients yearning for.'

The British Acupuncture Council has welcomed a study, published in JAMA this week, which showed that women experiencing side effects of breast cancer treatment benefited from acupuncture.

Women taking aromatase inhibitors, which block the production of estrogen, in the early stages of breast cancer can often experience joint pain.

But this latest study, which was carried out by researchers at New York Presbyterian and included 226 post-menopausal women, demonstrated ‘statistically significant but modest improvements’ in the group that received true acupuncture, as opposed to a sham treatment or no treatment at all.

The president of the Italian Federation of Acupuncture Societies (F.I.S.A) has questioned the validity of a recent study which suggested that acupuncture did not improve the rate of live births among women undergoing IVF.

The study, Effect of Acupuncture vs Sham Acupuncture on Live Births Among Women Undergoing In Vitro Fertilization by Caroline A. Smith et al., was published in the Journal of the Americal Medical Association (JAMA) in May.

In a letter to the journal's editor, Carlo Maria Giovanardi, MD, has branded the research 'invalid' due to the lack of a 'true control group'.

He claims that sham acupuncture, which the researchers used as a control to compare with traditional acupuncture, is not 'an inert placebo', as the study suggests, but, on the contrary, could itself have a positive impact on pregnancy rates.

Veterans suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience 'significant clinical improvement' in their symptoms after just six sessions of acupuncture, a new study has shown.

The study, funded by the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) and conducted by Healthwatch Norfolk, involved 26 veterans, who received free treatment from the charity Stand Easy, between July 2017 and January 2018.

Data were collected through three self-report questionnaires – the primary outcome measure was PTSD symptoms, as measured through the PTSD checklist Civilian Version (PLC-C). The secondary outcome measure was symptoms of depression and anxiety, measured through the the 12-item General Health Questionnaires (GHQ-12).

Of the 26 participants, 21 (80.8%) completed post-treatment outcomes. Five (19.2%) dropped out before finishing the six sessions.

"Positive results"

Ed Fraser, who led the project for HealthWatch Norfolk, said: "The positive results that we observed were highly unusual and extremely impressive when compared to other studies.  That is a remarkable outcome, which we were not expecting to see.

"Whilst we acknowledge that our evaluation had a number of limitations, we believe that our results provide good evidence for the short-term effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for PTSD, which justifies further research in this area."

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Press Contact

Katie Osborne

Tel: 07990 922615