To legally practise acupuncture in this country, you don’t need to be a member of a professional body. You don’t need training. Just a sink, hot water, and a clinical waste bin.
In some countries acupuncture is tightly regulated, but here in the UK, despite increasing use in mainstream medical settings, regulation is simply voluntary.
The government says that the current self-regulation system is robust enough to protect the public health.
But without statutory regulation some acupuncturists believe that the profession will struggle to gain recognition and consistency of standards. Others disagree.
Then there is the matter of how to integrate into the NHS and regulate a profession that stands on a fundamentally different paradigm to Western medical theories. If acupuncture were to be regulated more closely, what kind of skills and knowledge would be included in the requirements? Would GPs and physiotherapists wanting to use acupuncture need to prove a knowledge of traditional Chinese medical theories? Or would those traditional Chinese theories be left out of the definition of a qualified acupuncturist?
Since the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) was formed in 1995, it has pushed for statutory regulation for acupuncturists. The House of Lords recommended this in 2000, with the government finally initiating a consultation process in 2009. The current government concluded, however, that acupuncture was low risk to the public, with few complaints, so statutory regulation is unnecessary.
The BAcC estimates there to be 12,000 registered practitioners of acupuncture nationwide. The BAcC is the UK’s largest body, representing more than 3,000 professionally qualified acupuncturists.Nick Pahl, chief executive of the BAcC, says: "There are a lot of Chinese shops on the high street that are not necessarily a member of us and people might not be able to distinguish between people who could really give quality like us."
"There are people out there who are not well-trained and their quality is dubious," he continues.
Read on Some acupuncturists agree.