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Patient safety incidents from acupuncture treatments: A review of reports to the National Patient Safety Agency



Background: Acupuncture is frequently employed to treat chronic pain syndromes or other chronic conditions. Nevertheless, there is a growing literature on adverse events (AEs) from treatments including pneumothorax, cardiac tamponade and spinal cord injury. Acupuncture is provided in almost all NHS pain clinics and by an increasing number of GP's and physiotherapists. Considering acupuncture's popularity, its safety has become an important public health issue. Objectives: To evaluate the harm caused to patients through acupuncture treatments within NHS organisations. Methods: The National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS) database was searched for incidents reported from 1st January 2009 to 31st December 2011. The free text fields of all reports received from all healthcare settings and specialties were searched for the keyword 'acupuncture'. All relevant incidents were reviewed to provide a qualitative theme of the harm to patients. Results: 468 patient safety incidents were identified; 325 met our inclusion criteria for analysis. Adverse events reported include retained needles (31%), dizziness (30%), loss of consciousness/unresponsive (19%), falls (4%), Bruising or soreness at needle site (2%), Pneumothorax (1%) and other adverse reactions (12%). The majority (95%) of the incidents were categorised as low or no harm. Conclusions: A number of AEs are recorded after acupuncture treatments in the NHS but the majority is not severe. However, miscategorisation and under-reporting may distort the overall picture. Acupuncture practitioners should be aware of, and be prepared to manage, any significant harm from treatments.

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