Feature Complementary medicine

Mapping the alternative route

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39192.475382.AD (Published 03 May 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:929
  1. Michael Day, freelance journalist
  1. London
  1. miday{at}f2s.com

    Regulation of complementary practitioners such as acupuncturists, herbalists, and therapists to weed out the charlatans and protect the public sounds uncontroversial. But, as Michael Day reports, proposals announced in last month's white paper seem to have brought more questions than answers

    For a long time complementary medicine was seen, by the public at least, as the gentle alternative to conventional treatment. It might not work, but at least it didn't carry the risks associated with synthetic drugs. That romantic notion was challenged more than a decade ago when nine women in previously good health developed end stage kidney disease months after receiving Chinese herbal treatment at a Belgium slimming clinic.1

    But toxic herbs are not the only concern. A swift trawl through Google seems to back suggestions by the UK Health Professions Council, the regulatory body for 13 healthcare professions (box), that there are now over 100 000 counsellors and therapists practising in the United Kingdom. In February, the council's chief executive, Marc Seale, summed up the current situation: “At present you could come out of Wormwood Scrubs and set yourself up as a counsellor.”

    Health Professions Council's current responsibilities

    • Arts therapists

    • Biomedical scientists

    • Chiropodists and podiatrists

    • Clinical scientists

    • Dietitians

    • Occupational therapists

    • Operating department practitioners

    • Orthoptists

    • Paramedics

    • Physiotherapists

    • Prosthetists and orthotists

    • Radiographers

    • Speech and language therapists

    One obvious solution is to regulate these professions. And nobody has been clamouring more loudly for statutory registers than some of the complementary practitioners themselves. “There are a lot of people who don't have the necessary training and knowledge to protect the public, that's why we need statutory registration,” says Amrit Ahluwalia, project director of the European Herbal Practitioners Association (box). “And we're not just talking about knowing how to avoid interactions with other drugs. It's about knowing when to refer patients to other professionals. If you're going to …

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