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Regulation of complementary therapists 'may harm patients'

By Nigel Praities

Statutory regulation of herbalists and Chinese medicine practitioners is ‘completely inappropriate' and will put patients at risk, according to doctors' leaders.

In comments that put the college on a direct collision course with the Government and prominent pressure groups, the Royal College of Physicians said plans to extend regulation would legitimise therapies that have no proven benefit.

Alternative medicine practitioners are currently subject to voluntary regulation by the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, but this system has been criticised as ‘misleading and dangerous'.

The Government plans to introduce statutory regulation for acupuncturists, herbalists and Chinese and other traditional medicine practitioners before new EU rules on the supply of complementary therapies come into force in 2011.

As part of a consultation on the plans that closed last month, the RCP has weighed in with a strongly worded response – seen by Pulse – saying those offering ‘unproven' complementary medicines should not be allowed the status of a regulated profession.

‘This approach would be completely inappropriate for those "disciplines" of complementary therapy whose therapies are neither of proven benefit nor appropriately tested,' reads the response.

‘Extending the imprimatur of statutory regulation analogous to that applied to medical, nursing, dentistry, and physiotherapy, to practitioners whose therapies are neither of proven benefit nor appropriately tested, has the potential to increase the possibility of harm.'

The RCP said it supported statutory regulation of acupuncture, but not for other complementary therapies: ‘Herbal and traditional medicine which are largely or completely of unproven benefit should be regulated in terms of consumer protection,' the statement says.

The comments are in direct opposition to those issued by the Prince of Wales' Foundation for Integrated Health this week.

A spokesperson for the foundation said patients will be ‘abandoned to quackery' unless the Government introduces statutory regulation of herbal medicine.

The EU rules due to be introduced in 2011 dictate that only statutory registered professionals will be able to prescribe herbal medicines. The foundation argues this will result in patients seeking ‘bogus' practitioners to access herbal medicines.

Statutory regulation of herbalists is 'completely inappropriate' say doctors' leaders.

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