UK-wide consultation on CAM regulation is launched

Critics say statutory rules would give the subjects unwarranted legitimacy. Zoë Corbyn reports

August 5, 2009

A consultation on whether practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) should be regulated could have dramatic implications for universities.

The consultation was jointly launched by the health departments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on 3 August. It seeks views on whether complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) should be regulated and, if so, how.

“The Government needs to decide whether to agree to the statutory regulation of acupuncture, herbal medicine and TCM and… what form [it] should take,” it says.

If these areas were regulated, it would give the controversial treatments more credence and could lead to a boom in demand for CAM degrees.

The University of Central Lancashire said last month it would consider reviving its BSc degrees in homoeopathy, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine – which it suspended in April on the grounds of low student interest – if the Government used its statutory powers to regulate the subjects.

Those in favour of regulation argue that it would provide members of the public accessing such treatments with a greater degree of protection.

But CAM detractors counter that it would provide the practices with an unwarranted legitimacy.

“If you regulate, it appears to give government endorsement to things that mostly are no better than placebo and are sometimes dangerous,” said David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London and an outspoken campaigner against CAM degrees.

The consultation is the Government’s response to a report from a Department of Health steering group chaired by Michael Pittilo, vice-chancellor of The Robert Gordon University, that was published in May 2008.

The group recommended that the Health Professions Council should regulate CAM practitioners and that bachelors degrees with honours should be the “threshold entry route” for a government-backed register.

Thus far, osteopathy is the only CAM subject to be regulated.

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