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Acupuncture Is The UK’s Most Popular Alternative Medicine

According to a study published in 2007, acupuncture was the number one ‘non-conventional’ treatment used within the UK. NHS patients may now be offered a course for certain conditions on an out-patient basis [2]. Private practices have opened in most major towns and cities. Many offer not only needling but frequently also Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine. There are now long established UK training and CPD routes for practitioners, and study in China itself is still a popular option.

Needling In The National Health Service

The NHS has been incorporating some limited use of acupuncturists for a number of years now. For example, in South London’s Borough of Lambeth, the Gateway Clinic [3] has allowed patients treatment from acupuncturists via GP referral for over a decade. It has been operating as a multibed clinic, meaning many patients can be treated at the same time. There are also group ear needling sessions. One further good example is the case of lower back pain treatments. In 2009, National Institute For Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued clinical guidelines for treatment which included the option to have a course of needling for early stage conditions [4].

Other Uses Within Healthcare Settings

Ear acupoints have been used extensively in the field of drug and alcohol recovery. The movement began in America, spearheaded by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). Studies began to be published demonstrating measurable beneficial effects across a variety of serious addictive behaviours. There are also many other applications for this therapy, which in itself is one of a number of micro-systems approaches,

On The High Street

From a small number of clinics, the number has now grown to the extent where they are an everyday feature on the high street and even in some shopping centres. It has become relatively easy for patients to find a qualified practitioner working from a modern, clean clinic environment. There are those practitioners who have pursued special interests, for example, appointments to complement courses of conventional IVF medicine have become increasingly in demand. Other clinics have focused on cosmetic facial treatments, aiming to reduce the look of wrinkles, fine lines, dark circles under the eyes and generally improve the tone of the face. These two very different areas are simply examples of how diverse the practice really has become. Multibed clinics are also popular in the cities, offering many patients the opportunity to benefit from the same treatments as ‘private room’ clinics, but at a significantly lower cost.

Elsewhere in Europe, the availability varies between different countries. In Barcelona, for example, it is possible to find some of the same special interest practitioners as in London. Whereas in parts of Eastern Europe, you might well struggle to find them. On the whole, the practice becoming more widespread across the continent. One example is the success of the Pan-European Federation of Traditional Chinese Medicine Societies, with over a decade of membership now for its eighteen member countries.

Acupuncturist Training Has Developed

In the earliest days of its spread from China to the West, many practitioners felt they could only access training by travelling to Beijing. As the practice became more established, it followed that more and more credible training facilities began to open courses within the UK. Today the typical training course for a new practitioner will be a three to four year undergraduate degree with one of a small number of UK universities. One of the most pioneering courses was the Middlesex University Bachelor of Science, which followed the Chinese style training of teaching needling and herbs at the same time. The original five year course included a final year spent partly in Beijing hospitals, which integrate Traditional Chinese Medicine and conventional medicine [5]. Later students studied for four years, and many made their own arrangements to continue to study in such hospitals during the university breaks. Other UK courses now focus on needling first at undergraduate level, and later offer training in herbs at Masters level.


[1] Roberts, J & Moore, D. 2007. Mapping the evidence base and use of acupuncture within the NHS. [online] Birmingham, UK: University of Birmingham. Available at: http://www.rep.bham.ac.uk/2006/Mapping_Acupunture.pdf. [Accessed 10 Jan 2009].

[2] NHS. 2010. Common uses of acupuncture. [online] London: NHS. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Acupuncture/Pages/What-is-it-used-for.aspx [Accessed 4th July 2011].

[3] Lambeth NHS Primary Care Trust. n.d. The Gateway Clinic. [online] Available at: http://www.lambethcommunityservices.nhs.uk/documents/845.pdf [Accessed 4th July 2011].

[4] National Institute For Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE). 2009. Low back pain. (NICE CG88). London: NICE.

[5] Hesketh, T & Zhu, W.X.. 1997. Health in China: Traditional Chinese medicine: one country, two systems. BMJ 315(7100) p. 115.

Written by Ruth Westnidge

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