How Do Community Acupuncture Clinics Work?

Community, or multibed acupuncture clinics are a relatively new development in the UK. Although there are now more than fifty in England they have received little attention, and as a result many people who are interested in acupuncture have not heard of these clinics, or are unsure about how these clinics work.

The following article gives a brief overview of what community acupuncture clinics are  and how they work. For a more comprehensive view, please take a look at an article by the Charlotte Stone, founder of the Association of Community and Multibed Acupuncture Clinics; Multi-bed Acupuncture clinics: a new model of practice.

The treatment of more than one patient by a practitioner, in a room where other patients are also being treated is common in China and other countries in the east that have traditionally used acupuncture as a form of health care. In England, however, the first multi-bed clinic was set up in Lambeth in 1990, by John Tindall. This clinic, know as the ‘Gateway Clinic’, was funded by the NHS and allowed up to 400 patients to receive acupuncture treatment each week.

The ‘Dragon Clinic’ in Brighton was one of the first non-NHS funded community acupuncture clinics, opening in 2003. Many more community acupuncture clinics have opened since, following this model.

Logo of the Association of Community & Multibed Acupuncture Clinics

The Association of Community & Multibed Acupuncture Clinics is the UK’s organisation for community acupuncture clinics. It aims to support the provision of affordable acupuncture treatment in multibed clinics.

Although there are differences across these acupuncture clinics, they all have one thing in common: acupuncture treatments are given to more than one person at once in a community space. Sometimes, but not always, treatment spaces are separated by screens. Other community acupuncture clinics are completely open plan. Community or Multibed Acupuncture has therefore been defined as acupuncture clinics where “a practitioner treats more than one patient per hour in the same room, with the aim of making acupuncture treatment more affordable”. Charges are often made on a sliding scale basis, where patients choose the amount that suits their budget from a range of prices. Some clinics treat patients on massage tables, others use recliners.

Concerns have been raised regarding the level of privacy in community acupuncture clinics. Far from being a problem, however, the open plan environment has been reported as having a positive effect on people and enhancing their acupuncture treatment. A survey was conducted by One Space Acupuncture to assess patient attitudes to the space and the treatment:

“After the first year we conducted a survey amongst our patients to get some feedback that might be useful for us. The response was very positive, and a number of people reported that, contrary to their expectations, they enjoyed having acupuncture with other people being treated around them. They liked the atmosphere, the music and being tucked up in a blanket.”

A regular patient at a community acupuncture clinic noted:

“There’s a kind of collective feel about getting treatment in a room with other people. And it is that sense of … that it’s a clinic that’s dedicated to the welfare of a wider community, in the same way that a doctor’s surgery is, you kind of feel a part of something bigger.”

Logo for People's Organization of Community Acupuncture

The People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA) regulates community acupuncture clinics in the USA, and has begun working closely with ACMAC in recent years.

Of course there are people for whom community acupuncture clinics are not the ideal environments to receive acupuncture treatment. Those who have very sensitive issues that they feel they need to discuss with the acupuncturist, or those who do not feel comfortable around others may be better off seeking one-to-one acupuncture treatment. There will always be a place for private acupuncture, of course.

Although many people are initially drawn to community acupuncture clinics because of the price difference, patients can be surprised at other benefits that these spaces bring, such as feelings of community, a sense of perspective of their own problems, and being part of a positive movement.

Both private and community acupuncture clinics will continue to thrive side by side in the UK, as they have their own advantages and strengths.

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