A STATUTORY register for practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine is to be established by The Health Professions Council.
Government plans announced by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley will side-step a European directive due to take effect in April 2011 making it illegal for herbal practitioners in the UK to source unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines for their patients.
In a Parliamentary statement Mr Lansley said: "Practitioner regulation will be underpinned by a strengthened system for regulating medicinal products. This approach will give practitioners and consumers continuing access to herbal medicines. It will do this by allowing us to use a derogation in the European legislation to set up a UK scheme to permit and regulate the supply, via practitioners, of unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines to meet individual patient needs.
"The Health Professions Council is an established and experienced statutory regulatory body which has the necessary experience to be able to successfully establish and maintain a statutory register for practitioners wishing to supply unlicensed herbal medicines. Subject to parliamentary approval, such practitioners who wish to supply unlicensed herbal products will be required by law to register with the HPC."
The policy runs counter to concerns expressed by many doctors in a 2009 consultation on the matter in which The Royal College of Physicians opposed statutory regulation, calling it "completely inappropriate" and adding credibility to therapies that had "the potential to increase the possibility of harm".
RCP president Sir Richard Thompson said in Pulse: "The proposed statutory regulation will imply herbal therapies have the same legitimacy as medicine, nursing and dentistry, despite offering patients no proven benefit."
Currently registration of practitioners using unlicensed herbal medicines is voluntary through the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.