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Safe Practice: Protecting our members

Safe Practice: Protecting our members

By the British Acupuncture Council’s safety officer, Hannah Bowie-Carlin


I was appointed by the British Acupuncture Council as its new safety officer in September 2019, replacing Ian Stones who held the position for 13 years.

My primary role is to protect our members and their patients.

I have been a practicing member of the British Acupuncture Council since graduating from The University of Westminster in 2004.

The importance of providing clear and practical help to members on how to reach the BAcC’s high standards cannot be underestimated.

Underpinning everything is the Code and Guide to safe practice.        

This is a hugely important document, which highlights our stringent safety standards and it is vitally important that members regularly consult the Code.

Only British Acupuncture Council members belong to a Professional Standards Authority (PSA) accredited register, providing professional guarantees of safety, education and continuing professional development (

This gives patients, care providers and other healthcare professionals the confidence to use a British Acupuncture Council member when seeking treatment for themselves or on behalf of someone else, safe in the knowledge that they are in good hands.

I spend a great deal of time carrying out research so that I am able to provide members with the best, most up to date, safe practice methods. This, in turn, allows practitioners to provide professional treatments on a par with other medical professions.

Another important part of my role is to answer any safe practice questions from practitioners or patients. If, for example, a practitioner is approached by a patient with a complicated condition and would like advice on whether/how it is safe to treat, I can help guide on this. Patients also call me for advice and reassurance on treatment they have received. On our website we have a search facility which brings up information in our vast library of resources ranging from what to expect in a treatment, what acupuncture is good at treating, to lots of research and current affairs in the acupuncture world.

I am also responsible for managing the British Acupuncture Council’s Adverse Incident reports from BAcC practitioners. I follow these up if required but also provide practitioners with advice and support to help them avoid a similar situation in the future.

Our incidents of adverse events are extremely low. MacPherson 2001 and 2004 found no incidents of blood infections in the thousands of BAcC practitioners and patients.

A mistake or adverse incident can seriously affect the reputation of acupuncture so it is vitally important for practitioners to follow the Code of Safe practice. Anyone receiving a complaint against them will have their treatment assessed against the Code. If they are found to be practising within our guidelines they have much greater protection against complaints being upheld.

I believe the future of traditional acupuncture lies in its full integration into western healthcare, which would mean an exemption from local environmental licensing laws that put us in the same bracket as tattooists and ear piercers. I am currently working with local authorities with a view to achieving this. I am lobbying local government and senior environmental health officers as well as delivering presentations to groups of high level local officials.

I will also be meeting with those developing Welsh legislation. Last year a report from the Royal Society for public health (RSPH) drew attention to this issue in a report entitled ‘Skins and Needles’. The report included some information that alarmed many of our members, who felt that they had been misrepresented. It reported that one in five people who have a tattoo, a body piercing, electrolysis or acupuncture suffer some sort of health setback as a result. 

The BAcC quickly called for this to be retracted as our own adverse incident reporting system reveals that out of two million treatments delivered by members each year, just 20 (0.001%) result in an adverse event.

The vast majority of incidents are minor, such as a small bleed or a bruise when the needle is removed. While there is a risk to any healthcare procedure, the number of adverse events in acupuncture is very similar to the rates of adverse events in hospitals across Europe.

I will continue to work on this matter and hope to meet with RSPH to discuss this further.

Something I would also like to work on with our practitioners is our moxa skills. I am looking forward to the moxa workshops we will be providing this year. I hope to ensure that our collective skills and standards are high so we can provide both the effective treatment using moxa and ensure all the treatment we provide is at the highest safety standards.

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