Healthcare Professionals should stay within their scope of practice


It is vital that Physio Therapists and now more recently Physical Therapists stay within their scope of practice, and not offer acupuncture “dry needling” they are not sufficiently trained or licensed for. This is a real issue not only of professional ethics, but of health and safety. Within the current regulation vacuum it is reported that Physios and Physical Therapists PT are now being offered 2 day “dry needling courses to use in their clinics. This is outside of the scope of practice of both Physio Therapists and Physical Therapists not fully trained in the clinical use of Acupuncture. Short seminars cannot be compared with professional Acupuncture training, according to World Health Organisation Guidelines. It is unethical and outside of the scope of practice to offer acupuncture or dry needling treatments to unsuspecting members of the public, under those circumstances.

Professional Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine associations both in Ireland, the UK and in many European countries denounce the practice of dry needling with a mini mum of training, typically 2 days. One experienced acupuncturist who has practiced for several years, following 4 years training both in Ireland and in China said:

It’s very frustrating to see one weekend courses for health professionals being advertised as dry needling and then to see these offering acupuncture treatments to their patients on the basis of one weekend training. It’s a real issue of public safety and is damaging to us as a profession who have agreed our basic training standards within the profession

This is not just a European problem, the adjunctive use of “dry needling” is unlicensed and banned in many US states.

Writing in the International Journal “Acupuncture Today” New Jersey practitioner Virginia Mills says PTs (Physical, or Physio Therapists) are not licensed to insert needles. Those who are doing dry needling are not using PT needles but are using Acupuncture needles, in trigger points, many of which are acupuncture points.” She goes on to say “It is an insult to our knowledge and training that anyone with much less training and instruction can use Acupuncture needles. This treatment should only be allowed within the scope of the Acupuncture practice.”

Virginia Mills – Stay with your scope of practice

This is particularly relevant when therapies have agreed their training standards and they wish to protect those standards. Voluntary professional bodies can only regulate their own members and they currently have no sanction over this practice. Some practitioners have reported and described incidences when healthcare therapists who do short training courses in a particular therapy, sometimes of less than 10% of what the well trained therapist would have done, and then practice that therapy in whatever limited way, using that therapy title. That has been reported by acupuncture bodies who complain that other therapists can do the one weekend’s training in needling skills, or auricular therapy and then describe themselves as acupuncturists, offer an Acupuncture service as an adjunctive to a healthcare treatment.

This is a serious issue which needs to be addressed by all of the professional bodies, not least for the protection of the public, but also for the protection of the profession.

Dr. Bernadette Ward. PhD. MSc. Lic Ac.
Acupuncture Foundation Ireland