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A Joint Consultation on the Report to Ministers from the DH Steering Group on the Statutory Regulation of Practitioners of Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Other Traditional Medicine Systems Practised in the UK.

This extremely lengthy consultation paper was published by the Department of Health (DH) in July 2009 with a deadline for responses of  November 2nd, now extended to November 16th 2009. It runs to 56 pages along with a separate Impact Assessment document of 21 pages. Anybody, including members of the public, can access the document from this link: –

http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_103566.pdf

Equally anybody can respond to it – the DH hopes that most will do so by using the electronic ‘Question & Answer’ form provided, although there are few if any who will be able to answer every one of the questions.

The DH Steering Group Report referred to in the title strongly recommended Statutory Regulation and was primarily concerned with the detail of how it should be achieved and administered. In somewhat unanticipated contrast the DH consultation appears to be going ‘back to the drawing board’ offering in addition no less than eight alternative ‘light touch’ approaches for consideration such as accredited voluntary regulation and even a voluntary licensing scheme.

The consultation does seem very concerned that any regulation of herbal medicine, acupuncture et al. should be proportionate to risk – ‘proportionate’ taking into account not only what is perceived as risk but also any negative impact on practitioners and their patients (expense, bureaucracy, interference), and in particular the cost to the taxpayer.

In most respects the consultation does appear to be painstakingly accessible, even-handed and inclusive. Conspiracy theorists can be forgiven in the light of recent government behaviour to interpret this all as ‘window dressing’, decisions having already been made by the Ministers. Others see signs that the DH is wavering and that the whole regulation issue will be shelved or scrapped. This latter contention is more likely – new, expensive, petty regulation will clearly not be a vote-winner during a deep recession, and there is a general election looming long before any new arrangements could be enacted.

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