Regulating herbal medicine and acupuncture: author’s replyBMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a590 (Published 01 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a590
In the same week that the report to ministers from the Department of Health steering group on the statutory regulation of acupuncture, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine. and other traditional medicine systems practised in the UK was published,1 the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued a further alert on poor practice causing serious harm in the herbal medicines sector.2 Colquhoun (previous letter) criticises our report and the Department of Health for advocating regulation to protect the public3 because of the absence of evidence for efficacy. The evidence from the MHRA, coupled with survey data suggesting that as many as 10.6% of adults in England have accessed the more established therapies,4 shows that there is a need for regulation to protect the public. This should be pursued alongside research on efficacy and not be a prerequisite. The report stated that any NHS funding should be dependent on demonstrable benefit with evidence of efficacy, safety, and quality assurance.
Colquhoun also asserts that my university runs courses that will benefit from the recommendation that practitioners should take honours degrees. My university offers no qualifying courses in complementary or alternative medicine nor has any current plans to do so. The few courses that exist seek to broaden the experience of orthodox healthcare practitioners. The General Medical Council has specified that because many patients choose alternative and complementary therapies, medical graduates should be aware of these, why patients use them, and how they may interact with other types of treatment.5
The continuing reports of serious harm from therapies covered by the report merit immediate action rather than further consultation.
Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a590
Competing interests: RMP is chair, Department of Health steering group on the statutory regulation of practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, and other traditional medicine systems practised in the UK. He is also a trustee of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health and vice-chancellor of a university with some complementary and alternative medicine provision