This site is intended for health professionals only

Regulation of herbal medicines gets go-ahead

The Government will proceed with the statutory regulation of herbalists and acupuncturists, side-stepping concerns that it may put patients at risk.

EU laws – due to be brought in this April – would have made it illegal for practitioners to provide unlicensed herbal medicines.

However, in a controversial move, the Government has decided to side-step this legislation by offering statutory registration for all practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine.

The Government has decided to plough ahead with regulation, despite concerns from doctors that it will mislead patients.

In a consulation in 2009, the Royal College of Physicians issued a strongly worded response against statutory regulation, saying it was ‘completely inappropriate' and arguing it would lend credibility to therapies that had ‘the potential to increase the possibility of harm'.

Today, RCP president Sir Richard Thompson said he was 'disappointed' with the changes announced by the Government.

'The proposed statutory regulation will imply herbal therapies have the same legitimacy as medicine, nursing and dentistry, despite offering patients no proven benefit,' he said.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said he had already asked the Health Professions Council to establish a statutory register for practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines.

‘This approach will give practitioners and consumers continuing access to herbal medicines.

‘It will do this by allowing us to use a derogation in the European legislation to set up a UK scheme to permit and regulate the supply, via practitioners, of unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines to meet individual patient needs.'

Alternative medicine practitioners are currently only subject to voluntary regulation by the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.