Community Acupuncture in the UK – Complements of Charlie Stone

In early December I had the pleasure of meeting and treating Charlotte (Charlie) Stone, president of ACMAC (Association of Community and Multibed Acupuncture Clinics) in the UK, and founder of Lewes Community Acupuncture.  It was such a joy to discuss our experiences with community acupuncture, and it was truly a highlight of my time in practice thus far as I felt I had met with a longtime friend.  I found Charlotte’s insights quite valuable and therefore asked her to share with us some of her thoughts on community acupuncture, the profession at large and in the UK.  Thank you, Charlie, for a wonderful post!

Whilst I was in the States recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Justine Deutsch at Acupuncture Together in Boston. It was great to see another example of how you acupunks over the pond are running your practices. I left feeling pretty jealous at the gorgeous space that Justine occupies! Clinic space, like everything else, is very expensive in England, it really is a big challenge to get a good space that is vaguely affordable. Justine’s space felt very settled and calm, a bit different to my clinic where we have to set up the whole space and pack it down each day.

Justine invited me to write a blog post. Thank you Justine, here we go, and hope this is of interest.

I do want to say that I get a lot out of my connection with you ameri-acupunks. If I weren’t involved in ACMAC (see, we are the UK version of CAN) I might not have had the reason over the past couple of years to read your blogs, or Lisa’s books, etc. I love your enthusiasm and anger and your willingness to speak out and discover something new that works for you and your patients. I’m also thankful for the pointers to non-TCM practice, or perhaps I should say ‘beyond TCM’. Dr Shen has only taught once in the UK (I missed it, durgh.) and his work isn’t well known. Same with Dr Tan. I haven’t yet started to integrate these ideas into my own practice, but at least I am aware of them, they are cooking in the soup of my mind. I will have to coincide a next visit to the States with a Dr Tan seminar as I’m not one for learning out of books. TCM has always seemed a bit clunky to me, and I’m loving these other theories. I’m also getting a lot out of Miriam Lee’s book ‘Insights of a Senior Acupuncturist’. Again I might not have discovered this book if I hadn’t seen it mentioned in the Little Red Cookbook. Her insights and wisdom resonate strongly for me. So thanks for all that guys. Next thing is the Jingei pulse DVD, winging its way to me now hopefully. If there are any other recommendations for similar books or teachers, please let me know.

As ever, there is plenty going on in the politics of acupuncture, wherever we are. I read with interest the debate/opinions on the US proposals for the Doctorate for acupuncture. Personally I support an apprenticeship system, but that isn’t a reality for many people in the UK, although until Regulation comes in (see below) anyone with any level or sort of training is allowed to practice. I don’t know what the legal implications are of training outside of the normal college system in the US.

I thought I’d say a bit about what I’m seeing in UK acupuncture right now. Some one-to-one/private/boutique acupuncture practitioners (whatever terminology you prefer; I only heard ‘boutique acupuncture’ recently and laughed out loud, excellent name) seem to be doing well, earning their living. They are the ones who have been in practice for 25 years, or else have an uncommon comfort with selling themselves. (Most of us Brits are so reticent and self-deprecating that the thought of self-promotion is awful. I think the Americans are less plagued by this, but I’m not sure.) Then there are a lot of one-to-one practitioners who are really struggling, especially those in years 1-5 of their practice. Presumably if a practitioner hasn’t had some success within 5 years, they will jack the whole thing in and go back to the office/shop/restaurant/investment bank.

However, as far as I’m aware, most of the multibed/CA clinics seem to be doing pretty well. ACMAC has 35 member clinics now, up from about 18 at the beginning of 2009. Some months there were 3 or 4 new ones. This is so brilliant for patients and practitioners, giving both the option of success. I think a lot of the non-multibed/CA world hasn’t quite woken up to the fact that the face of British acupuncture is changing before their very eyes.

I recently joined the executive committee of the British Acupuncture Council. It’s a very interesting experience, I’ve never done anything like this before. I ended up there because I was close to leaving the BacC (the main regulatory body for acu in the UK) because I was sick of paying £600 a year and not really knowing what I was getting for it. Someone nominated me to the EC and I took it rather than leave the BacC, as I felt that I could look out for the multibed/CA cause and fight our corner better from within. Many of the people on the council have been involved for 30 years and I appreciate their genuine passion for protecting traditional acupuncture. They are friendly and welcoming, but what I see, and I know Lisa has posted on this several times, is as much concentration on raising the ‘prestige’ of the profession as on increasing acupuncture’s accessibility. The BacC is in the process of obtaining a Royal Charter!!! (Some 300-year old vestigial feature of living in a monarchic ‘democracy’). I feel this is unnecessary and a diversion, plus I am anti-Royal and need to stick to my principles, and voted against it, and am apparently one of the very few who did! Prestige is addictive and the need for it always puts one on the back foot, if you ask me. The only valuable prestige comes from treating patients and getting them better, over and over again. Then people cant help but sit up and listen.

One of the very positive things the Council has been working on for years is trying to achieve Statutory (government) regulation for acupuncture practitioners, which is really nothing more than bureaucracy to enable us to work within the NHS (National Health Service). It’s been a long and tortuous path which isn’t over yet. If we get regulated, it will of course enable many more members of the British public to access acupuncture for free which is simply a Good Thing.

But working within a heaving, clunking, massive and powerful institution like the NHS, one where the dominant mode of treatment is usually at odds with our basic concepts and structures has great difficulties attached to it. The NHS/biomedicine cannot help wanting to put acupuncture in a box it can understand, and if the BacC is concerned about multibed/CA practice ‘dumbing-down’ traditional acupuncture, then in my opinion they should be more concerned about the effects that working within the NHS will have (enforced protocols, only treating certain conditions, relying only on biomedical style evidence base, etc). Similarly joining the power traps of the ‘mainstream’ can lead to valuing prestige. I find this political stuff very challenging, and to be honest I’m not full of ideas on how to navigate the stormy waters of power and influence, government and regulation.  Of course, the best answer so far is to side-step the NHS and work in a multibed/CA clinic, but it is so frustrating that still a significant section of our community can’t access treatment at our discounted rates, and would benefit from NHS-sponsored acupuncture.

Having said all that, I think 2010 will be a great year for multibed acu in the UK, and I’m sure its growth in the US will also continue unabated. Some of the colleges in the UK now use the multibed structure for their teaching clinics. Final-year students are finally, hopefully, starting to have seminars on multibed practice, and ACMAC is putting on another conference/workshop designed to inspire first, inform second (it’s not that hard to set up a multibed, just do it!).

I wish you all well and send you positive thoughts for a great new year from an unusually snowy UK.
Charlotte Stone, AKA Charlie
Director, ACMAC,,
And friend.  

Author: Justine_Myers

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  1. Great information here!

    Thank you Charlie and Justine! Your update on multibed acupuncture in the UK gives us a good perspective on our own political struggles here in the states. It’s great to hear that acupuncture schools in the UK are now including multibed in their clinic instruction.

    Your comments on the first professional doctorate were helpful, too. If the U.S. had something called a royal charter, I’m afraid our acupuncture profession would be trying to go after that, too.


    Marty Calliham, L.Ac.
    Peaceful Village Acupuncture

  2. Field Trip!

    Howdy, Sister Charlie!  Thanks so much for your post – I have a million questions for you, but they seem like the kind that are better discussed over a pint of bitter, or a pot of tea, or whatever one drinks when in England. ;^)

    Hmm, comrades: so far seems like we need to make some field trips to various places in Canada, Israel, possibly Sweden, and now England….

  3. hi Justine, Charlie and all

    Charlie, it’s good to hear what is happening in the UK: have just passed on your clinic info to a friend who lives in Whitstable (not too far, I think? she used to live in Brighton so is familiar with your neck of the woods)

    I am a Brit living in Toronto (Canada), doing community acupuncture in the last 6 months. Proper CAN introduction coming soon!  I’ve been avidly reading for a while and it’s been a great resource.





  4. We are going global!!!!!!


    I was just in Cambridge visiting my cousin and we discovered the existence of ACMAC. It was very exciting. She started trying to talk me into moving there and after a moments thought declared that the perfect place for a CAP would be Brighton. Sure enough we looked and there were already three there!

    I am trying to navigate the red tape to open a clinic in the Virgin Islands right now and finding it quite an adventure. I look forward to having sister clinics all over the world and being able to host and visit with each of you.






    “I’m trying to change the world, I don’t have time for a grudge match with every poser with a parka” Dr. Horrible