Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Thursday, 1 April 2010 13:15 UK

Herbal therapists face regulation crackdown

Herbal medicine
It is estimated one in five people use complementary medicine

The government has announced plans to force all providers of unlicensed herbal medicines to register with a regulator.

It comes after several public consultations on how best to police the industry.

The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), will ensure practitioners are properly trained and operating a safe business.

But some have said the proposals do not go far enough.

From 2011 EU legislation will permit only statutorily registered professionals to prescribe manufactured herbal remedies.

It is estimated that Britons spend about £1.6 billion a year on alternative remedies.

The CNHC was launched in 2009. Its main purpose was to hold a voluntary register of complementary therapists such as massage therapists, nutritional therapists and reflexologists.

Those providing unlicensed herbal medicines - thought to be around 8,000 practitioners - are not currently covered by the council.

In future, to be accepted on the register those providing unlicensed herbal medicines will have to show they have the right training and experience, abide by a code of conduct and ensure they have insurance in place.

Clinics are not judged on whether the therapies they provide are effective.

Protection

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: "Emerging evidence clearly demonstrates that the public needs better protection, but in a way that is measured and does not place unreasonable extra burdens on practitioners."

He added that he was in discussion with health ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to come to a joint agreement on legislation for regulation.

Proposals for those providing acupuncture are still being considered, he said.

Maggie Dunn, head of the CNHC estimated the proposals would mean many thousands of practitioners being forced to sign up and meet their standards.

Emerging evidence clearly demonstrates that the public needs better protection
Andy Burnham, health secretary

"We were set up specifically to safeguard the public around a sector that is very largely unregulated.

"This will enhance public protection for often very vulnerable groups of people who used complementary healthcare."

But Professor Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter's Peninsula Medical School said he had some concerns about the proposals.

"All healthcare professionals regulated in the UK have the proviso that they administer evidence-based medicine and if that is an exemption for those providing herbal medicines it would set a double standard which could be very detrimental to patient safety."

Emma Farrant, secretary of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine welcomed the proposal, but said that the CNHC had been set up for voluntary registration and so was not equipped to deal with statutory regulation.

She added: "The apparent decision to exclude acupuncturists from full regulation is bizarre and regrettable.

"Many Chinese medicine practitioners offer acupuncture alongside herbal remedies.

"We will be in a situation where a practitioner is regulated to carry out one element of a treatment, but not another."



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