Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Alternative therapy 'crackdown'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

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Maggie Dunn believes the Council will be able to identify and drive out the 'cowboys'.

The head of the UK's first regulator for complementary medicine has promised to get tough with the industry and drive out cowboy therapists.

Maggie Dunn, co-chairman of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), said it was time customers were given proper assurances.

She said the regulator, which is being launched on Monday, would clean up the industry used by one in five people.

And she estimated thousands of clinics may go out of business in the process.

The main plank of the council's work will be to operate a register of practitioners.

If that means that people who are not up to scratch are driven out of business, I will not cry for them
Maggie Dunn, of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council

It will not judge clinics on whether therapies are effective, but rather on whether they operate a professional and safe business.

To get on to the government-backed register, therapists will have to show they have the right training and experience, abide by a code of conduct and ensure they have insurance in place.

Ms Dunn told the BBC News website: "I think most of the profession is operating to good standards, but we know not everyone will be able to register.

"If that means that people who are not up to scratch are driven out of business, I will not cry for them."

There are over 150,000 complementary medicine therapists working in the UK.

Ms Dunn said she suspected between half and two thirds of them would make it on to the register which would allow them to use the regulator logo on literature and display in shops.

Of the rest, some would just need a little extra training to make the grade, but that would still leave many thousands who were not good enough.

Regulator's standards

As applying to the register is voluntary, Ms Dunn accepted that some therapists might not put themselves forward.

But she said they would be found out in the end as "within a year or so" customers will be looking to only use therapists who have met the regulator's standards.

Ms Dunn said: "It won't take long for customers to starting asking whether a practitioner is registered or searching on our website for ones that are.

"They will then vote with their feet."

At first the register will be open to massage and nutritional therapists, but in the coming months it will be rolled out to areas such as aromatherapy, reflexology and homeopathy.

"It is easy to think these are all low-risk specialities, but I know someone who had a rib broken by a masseur so it is important we have proper regulation."

Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter's Peninsula Medical School, said: "There does need to be more rigour in the regulation of complementary medicine as there will certainly be cowboys out there.

"However, I have concerns that the regulator does not have mandatory powers and is not looking at the efficacy of these therapies."

Health minister Ben Bradshaw welcomed the establishment of the CNHC.

"Members of the public who use these therapies will be able to check whether the practitioner they're seeing is registered with the CNHC," he said.

"If they are, they have the reassurance of knowing that they have had to meet minimum standards of qualification and that they have signed up to a rigorous code of conduct.

"Practitioners too will benefit by increased public confidence."

Therapists will have to pay 45 a year to join the register.

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