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Warning over herbal medicines

Regulation of herbal medicines must be improved to ensure patient safety, the UK drug regulator is warning.

Current arrangements fail to provide assurance of either systematic safety standards or the competency of herbal practitioners, according to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

It wants to reform the Medicines Act to make those who sell herbal medicines identifiable in law and professionally accountable. But the agency risks controversy by suggesting herbal practitioners 'could be seen as authorised healthcare professionals'.

GP experts agreed more regulation was vital with problems ranging from mix-ups over plants, contaminated products, inappropriate prescribing and inaccurate diagnoses.

Dr Brian Crichton, honorary lecturer in pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of Warwick and a GP in Solihull, said: 'Many herbal medicines have particularly active molecules. Herbal medicines should be treated much more like drugs – we do need legislation to protect patients.'

The MHRA consultation closes on 30 March. Other aspects of the new proposals are the requirements for a face to face consultation, restriction on named 'potent ingredients' and a herbal formulary.

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