Regarding herbal regulation in the UK

on .

Statement from Michael McIntyre chair of the European herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHPA), 24/09/2013 

The regulation of herbal medicine practitioners of all traditions, western, Chinese Ayurvedic and Tibetan, has been a matter of ongoing debate in the UK for the past 15 years. In 2000 the prestigious House of Lords’ Select Committee on Science and Technology recommended in its report on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that herbal practitioners should be statutorily regulated like doctors and nurses.

Following this in 2001 the UK Government launched a Department of Health Working Group to review this option. The Working Group, under independent chairmanship, published its findings in 2003 also calling for the statutory regulation of herbal practitioners.

After a public consultation that saw over 90% of the public in favour of statutory regulation of herbalists, in 2004 the Department of Health published a timetable for this to occur that would have had herbal practitioners state regulated by 2005. In the event, a General Election and a huge scandal, because it was discovered that a medical doctor murdered more than a hundred of his patients, put the whole project on hold whilst the Department of health held consultations on the regulation of all health professionals, doctors, nurses, dentists etc.

As a result of this significant delay, the Government decided in 2006 to launch another working group under independent chairmanship to look again at the regulation of herbalists. This new working group published its report in 2008 once again recommending statutory regulation of herbalists and this led to another public consultation that showed similar huge public support for the regulation of herbal practitioners as the previous consultation.

Once more another General Election delayed matters and so it was not until 2011 that the new Government announced that the statutory regulation of herbalists would go ahead. The Minister of Health said that the decision to implement the statutory regulation of herbal practitioners marked ‘a significant milestone’. 

More than two years on from this announcement the Department of Health has failed to publish the draft legislation and there is little sign of progress. The delay is deeply damaging to the development and delivery of safe herbal medicine practice across the UK. There remains significant support for the statutory regulation of herbalists; there has been a debate this summer in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons on this subject.

The delay appears to be due to the Department of Health’s perception that the UK will be subject to legal challenge by the European Commission if it designates herbalists as statutorily regulated so that they become ‘authorized health professionals’ under directive 2001/83/EC (the pharmaceutical directive).

Being authorized health professionals will permit herbalists to use Article 5.1 of directive 2001/83/EC that allows individual medicines to be made up by suppliers for individual patients (so called ‘specials’ medicines). The misunderstanding between the Commission and the UK on this matter has apparently been brought about by the rather imprecise way that the Health Minister focused in his public statement on using statutory regulation as a means of making unlicensed medicines available to herbalists.

It appears that this ministerial statement has led to the perception within the European Commission that the UK Government is somehow seeking to circumvent EU medicines law.

This is a most unfortunate misinterpretation and not at all the case.

The legal advice that we have had is that the statutory regulation of herbal medicine practitioners in no way breaches EU law and any use by herbal practitioners of article 5.1 of the Directive 2001/83/EC to have individual medicines made for individual patients (‘specials medicines’) would also be lawful and not contrary to the directive.

In the last few weeks, the UK Government has signaled its willingness to resume talks about this subject. We expect to meet with senior civil servants any day now and very much hope that this matter can be quickly resolved and that many years of work can come to fruition with the statutory regulation of herbal practitioners in the UK.

This will give a proper legal basis for practice and safeguard the public since malpractice will result in wrongdoers being struck off the statutory register and losing their right to practice.

It will also underpin the delivery of herbal medicine training at degree level and ensure public access to well-trained herbal practitioners throughout the UK. 

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