The Prince of Wales is pushing for an acceptance of complementary medicines and urging medical watchdogs to regulate their professions in order to better protect patients.
Two years ago the Coalition pledged to bring in an official register of practitioners of herbal and Chinese medicines, which would see therapists regulated alongside other health care workers.
It followed two public consultations that found overwhelming support for the proposals.
But ministers have blocked the proposals, instead setting up a new committee – which has just secretly drawn up plans to spend a further 18 months re-examining the matter.
Prince Charles is said to be increasingly frustrated about “delay tactics” which mean that the proposals may not be published until next year and then would be highly likely to be cast aside again as an election looms.
He is understood to have raised his concerns with Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, during a meeting at Clarence House.
Senior figures in complementary medicine said the safety of the public was being compromised by a reluctance of ministers to tackle the controversial issue and set standards to weed out rogue practitioners.
Dr Michael Dixon, the chairman of the College of Medicine, which advocates an “integrated” approach to medicine – so that complementary therapies such as homoeopathy, acupuncture and herbal remedies are evaluated alongside mainstream medicine – said: “The Prince of Wales has consistently pushed for stricter controls over complementary medicines so that the public has a real choice about treatment, and is properly protected.”
Dr Dixon, a GP, said: “We need to introduce regulation in order to protect the public and also to make sure that good practitioners don’t get tainted by the bad apples out there.”
Under Labour, there were two public consultations – in 2004 and 2009 – which found high levels of public support for regulation of those practising herbal and Chinese medicines.
In 2011 Andrew Lansley, the health secretary at the time, pledged to introduce a register, which would see therapists regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council, alongside 16 other types of healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists, speech therapists and dieticians. Plans were drawn up to bring in regulation by the end of 2012.
Last month, however, Dr Dan Poulter, the health minister, wrote to senior figures in the industry, inviting them to become part of an independent Herbal Practitioners and Medicines Working Group “with the aim of reviewing, advising and making recommendations to government on the way forward in this complex area”.
Draft terms of reference, seen by The Telegraph, set out a timetable for discussions – with a final report not scheduled until March 2015, meaning any recommendations would almost certainly be put aside in the run-up to an election.
A spokesman for the Department for Health said that its officials had been working with the UK’s devolved administrations since 2011 in order to determine how best to “balance public protection with consumer choice” in herbal medicine and had set up the working group because the issues involved were complex.
Source: Telegraph Online - Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent, 19/01/2014