Acupuncture is not regulated in the UK. This effectively means that anyone can buy a box of needles on eBay and call themselves an acupuncturist! Following these five steps will ensure that you find a qualified, safe practitioner who is right for you.
1. Choose a type of acupuncture
There are several different types of acupuncture available in the UK:
‘Traditional Acupuncture’ is practiced by members of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC). BAcC members have completed over 3,600 hours of study that meets World Health Organisation standards, usually in the form of a full time BA or BSc (Hons) university degree in acupuncture. Their training includes Western medical theory, Chinese medicine and acupuncture, and they are qualified to use acupuncture to treat the widest range of conditions. Each treatment they provide is uniquely formulated for you as an individual – like having a pharmacist design a new drug specifically for you.
‘Medical Acupuncture’ is practiced by people with Western medical training (like GPs and midwives) and ‘Dry Needling’ is practiced by people with training in manual therapies (like physiotherapists and chiropractors). Their acupuncture training ranges from 2 days to 6 months in duration. Some medical acupuncturists are members of the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS), and some Dry Needling courses are accredited by the British Acupuncture Society (BAS). Medical Acupuncturists treat a smaller number of conditions than Traditional Acupuncturists, and Dry Needling courses cover where to insert needles for certain musculoskeletal problems. Medical Acupuncture and Dry Needling uses set treatment protocols based on your symptoms – like being given a standard over-the-counter pill.
2. Ask about their qualifications
In the absence of statutory regulation, it is essential to check what acupuncture qualifications a practitioner has before starting treatment.
You can ask what type of acupuncture they practice, how long their acupuncture training was, what qualification they gained, who awarded the qualification, and whether they belong to a professional body. British Acupuncture Council members will have the letters ‘MBAcC’ after their name.
It is never rude to ask to see a practitioner’s certificates and fully qualified practitioners will be happy to oblige. You can often check their professional registration online. For example, you can search for an acupuncturist by name on the British Acupuncture Council website at www.acupuncture.org.uk to check their membership status.
3. Check their Environmental Health registration
Like all skin-piercing techniques, acupuncture carries a risk of cross-infection. This is minimised by following guidelines set out by each district council. By law, everyone practicing acupuncture and dry needling must be inspected by and registered with their local council’s Environmental Health department, and must display their registration certificate in their treatment room. There are two exceptions: medical practitioners (e.g. GPs and nurses) practicing on NHS premises, and British Acupuncture Council members practicing in Greater London (this is because British Acupuncture Council Members adhere to very strict Safe Practice Guidelines that meet or surpass those set out by the Care Quality Commission and district councils). If you can’t see an Environmental Health certificate in your practitioner’s treatment room, ask them about it.
4. Ask about their experience
Ask what experience your prospective acupuncturist has in treating your symptoms or condition. Some acupuncturists complete additional Continuous Professional Development (CPD) training or conduct research into specific areas, so ask about this too.
You can ask what their success rate is like, but be aware that this can be a difficult question to answer because every case is unique. For example, there are many factors that contribute to low back pain, meaning that some people will feel better after just one treatment, while others will need to use acupuncture alongside lifestyle changes to help manage their pain.
5. Decide if you like them
Once you have determined what type of acupuncture they practice, checked out their qualifications, professional accreditation and Environmental Health registration, and asked about their experience, decide if you feel comfortable with them. Feeling that you trust your practitioner will make your experience much more enjoyable.
Have a look at their website and ask around to see if any of your friends have had treatment with them. Many acupuncturists offer free 15-minute sessions where you can meet them, discuss your symptoms, and ask any questions you might have. Of course, you can always give them a call and have a chat before deciding whether or not to start treatment.