Acupuncture and blood donations – the facts

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) works tirelessly to promote our members high professional standards. We have continued to lobby the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissue, and Organs (SaBTO) to amend their ruling and allow for blood donations from those who have been treated by our members.

At present anyone who has had acupuncture must wait for four months after their last treatment before they can give blood. This is known as the deferral period. The deferral period is not required if acupuncture was given by a statutory regulated healthcare professional: such as a nurse on the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register or a doctor on the General Medical Council (GMC) register. This is part of what is known as the ‘donor selection criteria’.

The current situation has been a source of frustration for both BAcC acupuncturists and their patients for many years. The British Acupuncture Council’s Safe Practice Manager, Hannah Bowie-Carlin, has been in communication with SaBTO to promote the high professional standards of our members, and investigate whether a change can be made to include our members in the exemption of deferral list

In April 2022 Prof Neuberger, the Chair of SaBTO, wrote to Hannah confirming he had written to UK Health Ministers to ask whether they would like the committee to update the recommendations from the donor selection criteria review for legislative review. Subject to ministerial views, this review is likely to include a  recommendation on acupuncture.

The challenge faced is set out by SaBTO in the Donor Selection Criteria Report (2017) which states (p180):

Many acupuncturists, in the UK belong to a professional body such as the British Acupuncture Council but others do not so it is difficult to find a way to mandate professional standards to ensure that acupuncture is always carried out using single use needles.

This statement highlights that SaBTO recognises our members professionalism but it is clear that they are concerned about other non-BAcC ‘acupuncturists’ who are not held in the same high regard.  The downside of the status quo is that it impacts on the number of people who can give blood. On the other hand, removal of the deferral period potentially increases the risk of transmission of a blood borne infection such as hepatitis B, if the acupuncture is provided by someone who is not properly trained.

In 2017 SaBTO recommended (p111):

The working group decided that there was a very low risk for acupuncture carried out in the UK in registered and regulated premises by appropriately trained individuals and recommended no deferral for UK based acupuncture practitioners, 3 months if done outside UK for blood donation. The working group thought that the current list of qualified practitioners should be extended.

SaBTO met on September 27 2022 and agreed that:

The SaBTO donor selection criteria review in 2017 (Blood, tissue and cell donor selection criteria report: 2017 – GOV.UK (, were still supported by SaBTO. These recommendations would be forwarded to health departments working to update the current legislative framework for blood and tissues.

In simple terms, we are waiting for UK Health Ministers to review the SaBTO 2017 recommendations and make the decision about whether to move forward.

The BAcC believes that Professional Standards Authority (PSA) Accredited Register status would be a useful means of identifying ‘appropriately trained individuals’. We have made this suggestion to SaBTO. The PSA has also written to SaBTO and the Department of Health and Social Care on this issue.

Ian Appleyard
Research & Policy Manager
March 2023