Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Body Politic

A spanner in the herbal works

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 21 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5441
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}

    The government’s bid to regulate herbalists looks less likely now that the Royal College of Physicians has objected, saying it would confer unwarranted respectability—and Prince Charles is not happy

    Has the tide turned on alternative medicine? For the past 20 years people who ought to know better have been bashfully embracing one evidence free treatment after another, for fear that refusing to do so would make them seem reactionary old fuddy duddies. But hope is never dead. In this instance it springs from rather an unlikely source: the Royal College of Physicians.

    In its response to the government’s consultation on the regulation of acupuncture, herbalism, and traditional Chinese medicine, the college is uncharacteristically robust. It says that statutory regulation is completely inappropriate for disciplines whose therapies are neither of proved benefit nor appropriately tested. It would apply a veneer of respectability and credibility that is unmerited. It would increase, rather than diminish, the risks.

    Why this came as a surprise is that until recently the college was part of the limp consensus that accepted the rise of alternative medicine without demur. In July 2008 it responded to the report to ministers on statutory regulation by …

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