Letter: Safety of acupuncture

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AS ONE who was present at the meeting on acupuncture that you reported on 17 March ("Doctors warn of injuries from acupuncture"), I can testify that the session on safety was the least satisfactory of the conference.

We had no context in which to judge the average of 10 adverse events reported annually from around the world. Did this make acupuncture safer than drug treatment? Most likely, according to Professor Ernst. How many incidents related to the UK, and how old were they? This wasn't known. Were doctors implicated in causing injury, as well as non-medical practitioners? Yes, as a matter of record. Could we be sure that the complications reported stemmed from the acupuncture treatment? Not always. The evidence was too anecdotal to be of much help to anybody.

More concrete were the indications of acupuncture's effectiveness in the treatment of pain, nausea and vomiting, and possibly stroke rehabilitation and other conditions. It was a pity your reporting presented a picture which could only put patients off. Also presented to us were the horrifying hospitalisation statistics as a result of conventional medical treatment. Since when has it been demanded of "cult therapies", as you describe one of the oldest of medical professions, that they alone must be free from all adverse effects?

In fact it was clear from Dr Rampes' presentation that the issues were ones of training, for medics and non-medics alike, rather than danger from acupuncture as such. Your readers will want to know that these issues are being addressed, both by the British Medical Acupuncture Society and by this Board in conjunction with the British Acupuncture Council, who have had schemes of accreditation up and running for some time. There is no complacency, but there is a need for the sake of the patients to get the matter in perspective.


Chair, British Acupuncture Accreditation Board