Alternative therapists to face new controls in government crackdown

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Rogue practitioners of alternative medicine who try to exploit patients will be driven out of business under plans announced by the Government yesterday.

Rogue practitioners of alternative medicine who try to exploit patients will be driven out of business under plans announced by the Government yesterday.

One in five people uses alternative medicine regularly, and there are more therapists than orthodox doctors but no control on standards of training, ministers said.

A disciplinary board to regulate two areas, acupuncture and herbal medicine, should be established to monitor ethical standards and performance, the Department of Health said in a consultation paper.

There are an estimated 4,000 acupuncturists and practitioners of herbal medicine. These areas had been selected because they are considered at a more advanced stage of development where regulation "would be of benefit to practitioners and their patients", the department said. Those who failed to meet the required level of competence, or breached ethical standards, would face being struck off the register in a similar way to errant doctors and nurses.

The consultation paper proposes setting up a Complementary and Alternative Medicine Council, which would have similar powers to the General Medical Council in assessing the performance of doctors.

The Health minister John Hutton said people were increasingly turning to complementary medicine, and the reforms were aimed at placing "patient safety at the centre of all health services". He added: "These proposals to regulate the industry will reassure patients and the public that herbal medicine and acupuncture practitioners are not only suitably qualified, but also competent and up-to-date with developments in practice."

Mr Hutton also announced plans to extend regulation to a wider range of health staff, including healthcare assistants, therapy assistants and healthcare scientists. About 300,000 support staff work in the NHS.

Mike O' Farrell, chief executive of the British Acupuncture Council, said it had been campaigning for statutory regulation of acupuncture for the benefit of patients. "The document from the DoH is the first step in what will be a challenging but critical process," he said.

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