Acupuncture in practice: mapping the providers, the patients and the settings in a national cross-sectional survey

BMJ Open. 2012 Jan 11;2(1):e000456. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000456. Print 2012.


Background There is relatively limited knowledge about the practitioners who provide acupuncture treatment within the UK, what conditions patients consult for and the treatment provided. Objectives To characterise the conditions treated and by whom, to examine characteristics of the treatment and to explore trends over time. Method A cross-sectional survey of the UK acupuncture practitioners was conducted; 800 practitioners were selected by computer-generated randomisation sequences from the four major UK-based professional associations. Data collected on the practitioners included demographic details, association membership, statutorily regulated status, practice setting, style of acupuncture, diagnostic methods and needle response sought. Practitioners recorded details of their 10 most recent patients, including demographic details, primary reason for consulting and lifestyle advice provided. Results 330 practitioners responded comprising doctors (29%) physiotherapists (29%), nurses (15%) and independent acupuncturists (27%): 62% were women with median age of 48 years. The majority (68%) practiced in independent settings and 42% practiced within the National Health Service. Patients most commonly consulted for low back, neck, shoulder and knee pain, as well as headaches and migraine. Treatment for infertility by independent acupuncturists was found to have increased fivefold in 10 years. Conclusion Acupuncture provides a substantial contribution to the healthcare of the UK, with an estimated 4 million sessions provided annually. The primary complaints for which patients consult reflect the growing evidence base on acupuncture for these conditions. These data provide a basis for decision-making regarding policy and practice.