Article by Martin Watt (Cert Phyt).

I qualified as Medical Herbalist in 1986 but refused for numerous reasons to join my "appropriate organisation" the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (N.I.M.H).

I refused to join an organisation that was a private limited company. I wondered then, and still do, if a private limited company can legally expel a shareholder for wrong doing. That question is fundamental to Statutory regulation as such organisations will be tasked with policing the system.

I refused to join because leading NIMH members failed to take significant action after serious complaints from students over matters concerning the training school.

I refused to join because I could see most of my fellow classmates, once they were admitted as members, were not prepared to take an active part in sanitizing the way the organisation was run.

I refused to join because there were issues with the way the educational trust was being administered.

I refused to join because of the lack of willingness to establish what aspects of herbal medicine were useful and what not. That included then, and may still do for all I know, a total lack of assessment of the efficacy of treatments being used at the training clinics.

Due to the above issues, therapists only being allowed to practice if "registered" by professional bodies in complementary medicine annoys me greatly. Membership of these bodies is fine if they are competent and well run - not the case with some existing ones. Most people join these organisations for cheaper insurance, ability to fill their business cards with initials, and for fear of not being a member. The regulators always ignore the history of these associations and that frequently they are run by an inner core, with their members rubber stamping what they advise if it be right or wrong.

The medical profession and its organisations are a prime example of what these organisations are really about, i.e. protecting their members not the public. Did the BMA protect us from Shipman; badly trained on-call doctors being shipped in from overseas, and the many others cases of medical negligence over the years? Answer no.

"Ethical codes provide protection" - utter rubbish! In every trade I can think of this is a fallacy designed to fool the public and pander to politicians and the media. There are tons of existing laws that can be used to deal with rogue traders or therapists, but rarely are they enforced. If someone chooses to be unethical, no codes of practice will make a bit of difference, even less so if no one enforces them.

The proposals to limit calling oneself a 'Medical Herbalist' to only "registered" practitioners, means that those who have trained, but choose not to join professional bodies of questionable competence, will be restricted in how they promote themselves. The Osteopaths were statutory registered a few years ago, but how many who still practice under that name have been prosecuted? Very few if any I think. So if no one is going to enforce the registered names what is the point in spending all that money? Well it does give the leaders in the respective trades power, status and money.

A major problem is existing laws are rarely enforced by various agencies. In particular, I have reported dozens of cases of illegal Internet sites in the UK to the Medicines Control Agency. I do not think a single one has been taken to court, instead they are just given warnings. Often these businesses knowingly break the law and wait until someone in the MHRA sends them a letter. I have cases where over a year has elapsed between my complaint and a letter being sent to the rogue trader. All that time the MHRA has allowed illegal medicinal claims and advice that poses a serious threat to the publics health to continue. It is that agency who are tasked with controlling herbal medicines. That agency and its advisory committees have numerous staff and advisors who worked, or have links, to pharmaceutical companies and whose mind-set is geared to ONLY their way of doing things. Therefore, anything monitored under the umbrella of that agency I have absolutely no confidence in.

The proposed regulatory scheme will have no powers over those who will not join the so called "professional" organisations. Non registered Practitioners will simply change the name they call themselves and continue regardless. In that case one has to question why it is that the herbal organisations feel they must spend huge amounts of their members money on such useless schemes?

Complementary therapists should stop pandering to the threats produced by the medical and drugs lobbies dominating the Government departments. Instead we should attack their long history of regulatory incompetence which is far worse than any harm caused by any Complementary practitioners.

My beliefs are:

1. That some quality controls on herbal preparations are necessary.
2. Statutory regulation of practitioners will not be effective in the way the pro lobby imply.
3. There may be a case to be answered at the European court over the legality of the EU commission and UK Governments proposals to interfere with our traditional rights.

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