Acupuncture - Safety and regulation 

Safety and regulation of acupuncture 

In England, there is not statutory regulation of acupuncture. But acupuncturists are required to register with their local authority.

Practitioners of conventional medicine, such as GPs, are subject to statutory regulation. This means that there are special laws to ensure that they are properly qualified, and adhere to certain standards or codes of practice.

There is no statutory regulation of acupuncture in England. But anyone practising acupuncture must register with their local authority for health and safety reasons. This is because of the risk of blood-borne diseases from piercing the skin with acupuncture needles. These rules also cover tattooing and cosmetic piercing.

The local authority must also ensure that it has byelaws that govern the cleanliness of the acupuncture premises, practitioners, instruments, materials and equipment.

When it is carried out by a qualified practitioner, acupuncture is safe. Serious side effects or complications arising from treatment are extremely rare.

Voluntary regulation

There are a number of acupuncture organisations in the UK that practitioners can join if they hold certain qualifications and agree to work according to certain codes of practice.

If you decide to have acupuncture, you can visit the websites of these organisations to find a qualified acupuncturist near you. The qualifications and codes of practice that they require of their members are also available on their websites.

These organisations include:

Risks and side effects

When conducted by a qualified practitioner, acupuncture is safe.

Mild, short-lasting side effects occur in around 7-11% of patients. These include:

  • pain where the needles puncture the skin
  • bleeding or bruising where the needles puncture the skin
  • drowsiness
  • worsening of pre-existing symptoms

Serious complications from treatment, such as infections or damage to tissue, are extremely rare. They usually occur only as a result of bad practice, carried out by an acupuncturist who has not been properly trained.

Who may not be able to have acupuncture?

Due to the slight risk of bleeding, people with bleeding disorders, such as haemophilia (where blood is unable to clot) may not be able to have acupuncture. People who take medicines that prevent the blood clotting, called anticoagulants, may not be able to have acupuncture. If you have a blood disorder or you are taking medicine that prevents blood clots, talk to your GP before you have acupuncture.

It is generally safe to have acupuncture when you are pregnant. Let your acupuncturist know if you are pregnant because certain acupuncture points cannot be used safely during pregnancy. Learn more in are complementary therapies safe in pregnancy?

Page last reviewed: 22/05/2012

Next review due: 22/05/2014

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Nick Pahl said on 11 September 2013

The British Acupuncture Council in 2013 was accredited by the Professional Standards Authority, a body accountable to Parliament.

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socratella said on 18 March 2011

Information on this page is incorrect. Acupuncture is legally controlled as a piercing activity since 1982 on health and safety grounds; premises and practitioners are subject to the conditions of Special Treatment Licencing. Each Borough Council sets its own criteria for licensing. Acupuncturists in London are controlled under the 1991/2000 Local Authorities Act so that only acupuncturists currently members of approved training associations such as AACP, BAaC, etc. are legally permitted to practice. The Act does not recognise Acupuncture as physiotherapy, so physiotherapists must be trained current members of an association such as the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP). As there is no formal certification of acupuncture available for licensing, the legal fiction says they are "exempt" from licencing but still need to register with their local Council and can get a form online under Special Treatment Licensing. Medical doctors and dentists are exempt from licensing. The Act says physiotherapists are Practitioners of acupuncture need to enquire for information at their own Borough Council.

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