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New Zealand’s largest professional body for acupuncturists has welcomed the UKs National Institute for Clinical Excellence’s (NICE) decision to include acupuncture in its new guidelines for treatment of patients with chronic primary pain.

Kate Roberts, spokesperson for Acupuncture NZ, said it was important that people considering undertaking a course of acupuncture, or medical professionals recommending acupuncture treatments to patients, recognise it should be undertaken by a registered practitioner.

“The new UK-based guidelines make recommendations for treatments, including acupuncture, that have been shown to be effective in managing chronic primary pain,” said Ms Roberts.

“It also recommends that people with chronic or persistent primary pain, which is where the cause of the pain is unclear but which lasts more than three months, should not be started on commonly used drugs, such as paracetamol, anti-inflammatories, benzodiazepines or opioids because there is no evidence of benefit. In fact, there is evidence of potential harm, including the risk of addiction.”

Acupuncture is currently an unregulated profession in New Zealand, although Acupuncture New Zealand has been advocating for it to be included under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act (HPCA) ensuring the safety of the public.

“Currently anyone can practice as an acupuncturist,” says Ms Roberts. “We strongly recommend that those seeking acupuncture treatment choose a practitioner who is fully qualified and registered with a professional body.

“Acupuncture NZ members have completed the equivalent of four years full-time training and our members have been accepted by ACC as Treatment Providers since 1990.

“All members are bound by our rules, clinical procedures, safe clinical practices and code of professional ethics and required to complete 20 hours of continuing professional development education each year and to hold a current first aid certificate, in order to maintain their Annual Practising Certificate. We do not recognise graduates of short courses or programmes undertaken by correspondence or distance education mode.”

Ms Roberts said it was also important to make people aware that for acupuncture to be effective, they will need a number of treatments.

“When people are going to undertake a course of treatment, they generally want to know how many sessions they will need and how much it will cost.

“The NICE decision to include acupuncture in the New Zealand guidelines reflects the strong body of evidence that shows that acupuncture is effective in treatment of chronic primary pain.

“Research has shown that undertaking six to 15 treatments with one to two sessions weekly can result in significant reduction in pain that continues for at least 12 months after treatment.”

Ms Roberts said there are currently nearly 1,200 registered acupuncture practitioners in New Zealand.

“The new guideline underlines the importance of appropriate assessment, careful drug choice, exercise programmes, psychological therapies, and consideration of acupuncture in improving the experience and outcomes of care for people with chronic pain.

“Acupuncture also presents an opportunity for treatment for people who are already on medication or who have co-morbid conditions because it will not interact with any other treatments or medications.

“There is much media coverage of the gaps in accessing treatments. The professional registered acupuncture community provides a ready workforce in that complementary framework that can help fill that gap.”

To find a registered acupuncture practitioner in your area see www.acupuncture.org.nz.

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