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At the end of this article we copy a Ministerial Statement from Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, published on Wednesday 16th February, and also a statement from the MHRA published on their website on the same day.

The main substance of these announcements are: –

·      In order to comply with European Directive 2004/24/EC, (aka THMPD), herbal practitioners (of all traditions) will be statutorily regulated by the Health Professions Council (HPC).

·      Section 12(1) of the 1968 Medicines Act would be reformed so that unlicensed medicines can only be used in the practices of HPC registered herbalists.

·      The arrangements should be put in place by 2012.

·      Acupuncturists, (hitherto considered to be a necessary part of the regulatory package) will not be regulated as they are not affected by the directive.

Like everybody else, we are in shock. Every indication was that the whole SR enterprise had foundered – it was an ill-conceived and unworkable plan, and assumed to be unattractive to a government beset by much greater problems and determined to cut costs. You can review the Herbarium’s commentaries on this in the ‘Law and Herbal Medicine’ files, which we will retain for the time being to help give insight into why we feel that this is all such a self-destructive nightmare.

Some insight into how this extraordinary eleventh-hour success for the EHTPA could have been possible comes from the PR company, Cogitamus, engaged during the final months of the campaign, who quote EHTPA Chair Michael Mcintyre thus: “On behalf of our thousands of members, I cannot thank or praise you enough for the vital support and advice you gave to us when it really mattered. Your intimate knowledge and experience of the health sector, combined with your understanding of both the formal decision-making processes and informal political dynamics in Whitehall, Westminster and the devolved administrations was exactly what we needed. It is no exaggeration to say that I truly believe you made a significant difference between ultimate success and failure in the final decision. I would have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending your services to any organisation in the health world needing calm, professional and deeply experienced advice or advocacy.”

So, this was less about our patients’ needs, the balance of arguments and good sense, and more about money (probably quite a lot of it) spent on lobbying. You may draw your own conclusions.

Whatever bringing SR to fruition might mean to other larger herbal modalities in the UK, it’s not good news for traditional western herbal medicine. Without the weight of numbers from the acupuncturists, with a government keen to spend as little as possible of taxpayer’s money, with the HPC under pressure to regulate way outside their comfort zone – this will cost regulated herbalists very dear – so much so that, given the humble incomes of most of us, it is unlikely to be affordable by all but a very, very, few – maybe too few to be sustainable. For the rest of us, having lost the right to make our own medicines, or indeed to buy them, and no doubt with other disincentives in place, we would be forced underground to work outside of the law. This is not an obvious recipe for growth either.

How do we respond to this? No fear! The joy of a good pun is to be able to convey two things at once – we won’t be cowed into submitting to regulation, nor will we allow it to lure us back into the trap of fear that we’ve be doing so much good work to escape.

The statements of government ministers seldom prove to be infallible – as is so often the case, the devil’s in the detail. The schedule of a 2012 completion seems particularly unrealistic. There are at least two further public consultations to compile, publish, call in and analyse, parliamentary time has to be found to debate and vote on two streams of legislation, the HPC has to develop its new bureaucracy, the PAs and their members have to go through a multitude of adaptations. It may nonetheless be rushed through and be so full of holes as to prove unworkable. If it’s delayed for long, it may be delayed forever. It may anyway simply prove to be beyond the purse of any of the interested parties.

The Herbarium, as we often remind ourselves, was launched to try and give herbal medicine a future. This is not the future the whole SR rigmarole would assume – that the western world is recovering from a little recession and we can soon all get back to escalating our material consumption. It’s the future of climate chaos, energy descent, and the decline of global bureaucracies and power structures. (This is at the core of the Transition Herbal Medicine ethos). If it turns out that we’re a little premature, at least we’ve left a message in a bottle for our grandchildren. But if we’re right, and there are all the signs that we are, then our work – every sensible herbalist’s work – has to be in preparation for a very different working environment, and one in which we are again relevant and valued. So the message to everybody in the midst of our hurt is chin up, hold steady, and keep the faith. Herbalists are hard to kill – if history will out, impossible to kill. Remember that the worst-case scenario has happened before in living memory – herbal medicine was illegal from 1941 to 1968. It proved paradoxically to be a golden era for our forebears, and nobody was prosecuted. It was a consequence of sheer bloody-mindedness, weak legislation, and the reticence of successive governments to prosecute citizens for doing no harm. Those who battled to bring the thoroughly civilized and effective Section 12(1) into the new Medicines Act, however much they also dreamt of official recognition, must surely be turning in their graves at the horrors that foolish herbalists and jaded politicians have managed to cook up 50 years later. We will have no part in it.

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