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April 2nd 2010

Announcement from the Health Secretary

Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, issued a statement on the Department of Health’s website on April 1st, in a long awaited response to the Ministry’s consultation on the regulation of herbal medicine. This press release can be accessed at www.dh.gov.uk/en/MediaCentre/Pressreleasesarchive/DH_115091.

At the heart of it is this: – ‘I am… minded to legislate to ensure that all practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines to members of the public in England must be registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC)… I believe that the introduction of such a register will increase public protection, but without the full trappings of professional recognition which are applied to practitioners of orthodox healthcare.’

This is not an executive statement, and is followed by the proviso that discussion will be required with the Health Ministers of Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland, and they will make a full joint response in due course. It’s not difficult to see that that this would almost certainly hold over any further activity until after the UK general election in May, so cannot be taken as read.

The CNHC is a relatively new umbrella register that was set up by the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health – for a total to date of 15 so-called ‘third tier’ complementary therapies such as Aromatherapy, Reflexology and Reiki. Its website can be found at www.cnhc.org.uk. Registration is currently voluntary and, significantly, does not automatically require membership of a PA.

Far from moving Herbal Medicine a significant step towards parity with ‘practitioners of orthodox healthcare’, this has to be seen as a move in the opposite direction. It seems little more than a form of voluntary self-regulation, but whatever it is, it is not Statutory Regulation! We believe this is a punishment for the bombastic, self-serving and often mendacious manner in which herbal medicine’s pro-SR campaign has been conducted. It’s not as if they weren’t warned: in the DH ‘Extending Professional & Occupational Regulation’ report last July, it said, ‘In the past there has been a danger that the extension of professional regulation to new groups has been overly driven by the aspirations of emerging professional groups themselves, as a means to establish themselves as safe and effective players in the health care arena. This has at times led to the use of the terminology of “aspirant” groups. This term was introduced by the HPC for the purpose of indicating when applications for regulation were made to it by groups who were seeking recognition as “professions”. The term has since become associated with those groups seeking regulation through emphasising the risks inherent in their professions in order to secure their positions within health care, for reasons of status and market position as well as for reasons of public protection and patient safety.’

A few hours after the DH pronouncement, NIMH broadcast to its members that ‘Andy Burnham has announced that statutory regulation of medical herbalism is to go ahead. This is a great day for the NIMH and a vindication of all the hard work put in by members over the last ten years or so.’ We have always been at pains not to interfere with the internal workings of the professional associations – all we can suggest is that those herbalists who still remain loyal to their PAs should look at what is said on the DH website, look at the CNHC website, and draw their own conclusions.

What do we make of all this ourselves? It looks like another government minister getting his desk cleared before the May election – if it’s a baton that will be picked up at all by the new government, if the CNHC idea will be actioned, and with what level of priority, remains to be seen. It’s still all going to take a very, very long time. We are certainly not going to suffer the same paralysis evidenced by the PAs, waiting for a political outcome whilst all around them is seemingly falling apart. Will we submit to the cheap and unchallenging demands of CNHC membership? We think not! It still ignores the principle that as ever, there is neither need nor justification to regulate Herbal Medicine.

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