Right of reply: The chair of the British Acupuncture Council replies to Professor Ernst's recent article

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The Independent Culture
PROFESSOR EDZARD Ernst is to be congratulated for his article on acupuncture (Health, 20 October) which highlights its growing popularity. What a pity then, that he compared it to Western medicine in the Middle Ages and devalues the extent of its use.

Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine and has existed in a documented form for more than 2,000 years. Its theoretical basis and development are quite different from Western medicine. The fact that it is an ancient practice does not mean it is stuck in the past. On the contrary, the essence of Chinese thinking is change, and acupuncture has, throughout its history, been constantly developing.

Professor Ernst is right to lay great emphasis on the importance of training and research to enhance our understanding and raise our standards of treatment, but these must be carried out in the context of the Chinese system, of which acupuncture is a part. If Western scientific methods have not yet proved the value of some theories on which acupuncture is based - for example qi (vital energy) - it does not mean they are not valid, and it would be arrogant to claim so. Thousands of people receive effective acupuncture for a range of conditions from practitioners using traditional Chinese methods.

Patient safety and the effective administration of acupuncture are equally important. The British Acupuncture Council insists on a minimum of two years' training. Many Western doctors and physiotherapists get only two weeks' training before practising acupuncture; perhaps this is the medieval state to which Ernst is referring.

In Britain today we have one of the most freely available and well-developed systems of acupuncture in Europe. With the British Acupuncture Council we have an effective organisation for monitoring and developing this. It would be to the benefit of all, especially patients, if everyone with an interest in acupuncture were to work together to ensure the highest possible standards.