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Now that the election dust has settled and, as expected, the political order has been shaken up, it seems a good time to cast a weary eye over the past decade and the ups and downs in the landscape of state regulation for herbalists. Let’s begin with some background on the biggest acronym in herbal medicine…

EHTPA

One of the chief protagonists in the drive for state-sanctioned ‘professional status’ for herbalists has been the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA, formerly the European Herbal Practitioners Association, EHPA), a pro-regulation lobby group formed in 1993 to (in their own words) enhance the legal basis of herbal medicine practice across the European Union (EU). The EHTPA is an umbrella body which represents professional associations (PAs). Representation of PAs within the EHTPA is on an organisational level: individual members of these PAs have no voting rights and no say in how the organisation is run, although each member is obliged to pay an annual £50 levy to fund the activities of the EHTPA. The PAs have a combined membership of around 1400, made up of herbalists from various traditions. The EHTPA was represented on the Department of Health (DH) Herbal Medicine Regulatory Working Group and the Steering Group on the Statutory Regulation of Practitioners of Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Other Traditional Medicine Systems Practised in the UK, both of which produced reports recommending the introduction of state regulation for herbalists in the UK. The EHTPA lobbied hard, particularly via letter-writing campaigns, demanding that MPs and the former Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, support state regulation for practitioners. This campaign appears to have been unsuccessful.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology

The campaign for state regulation started in earnest in November 2000 with the publication of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology report on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Herbalists appeared to receive official public backing for state regulation as the report suggested that practitioners met key criteria, including (a) risk to the public from poor practice, (b) the existence of a voluntary regulation system, and (c) a credible, if incomplete, evidence base.

Statutory Self-Regulation (SSR) was to be introduced under Section 60 of the Health Act 1999, which empowered the Health Secretary to ‘fast track a profession to SSR’1 via the establishment of a single umbrella body, recognised by statute, to represent, register and protect the title of herbalists.

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