This is not something I often do, but I need to ask for your support.
Please sign this petition:
I realise that you may not understand the reasons why Statutory Regulation is important, and why without it, you will not be able to choose the herbal medicine you currently enjoy for your health problems. I'm sorry it's a bit long, but I need to give you a good explanation.
Read on to find out why - and if you feel you can, please share this with your friends.
In 2011, the then Health Secretary announced the introduction of Statutory Regulation for herbalists.
Since then we have been waiting for the legislation to be drawn up.
It now appears that the UK government is about to renege on this promise to introduce SR.
However, it seems that we can still do something about this.
What we can do is to show the government, just as we have done before, that the UK public wants to have access to herbal medicine, and supports the regulation of herbalists. We have heard that the government is watching this petition which is why I'm asking you to sign it, and to ask your friends to sign it. They will bow to pressure if they see that the UK public wants to ensure that herbal medicine is available as a choice in healthcare.
The practice of herbal medicine is unique in the UK - in some countries it is 'tolerated' and in others it is illegal. In 1941 during the Blitz, the practice of herbal medicine in the UK was made illegal, but a public outcry meant the law was never enacted. However it stayed on the statute books and the few herbalists who remained worked illegally until 1968. When thalidomide caused serious problems a new law was written, requiring pharmaceutical medicines to be licensed. Herbal medicines were exempted. A small clause in the 1968 Medicine's Act allows herbalists to practise. However there is no legal definition of what a herbalist is so anyone and everyone can call themselves a herbalist and practice. There is no distinction between someone with a degree and long hours of training, including clinical training, who is part of a professional organisation, does lifelong CPD, abides by a Code of Ethics and so on and someone who has looked up a few things in a book.
The EU harmonised medicine legislation across the EU in 2011 - all medicines had to have a licence. Unlicensed herbal medicines that have been used for at least 30 years could continue to be used, providing they are prescribed by an authorised healthcare provider - in other words qualified herbalists. The problem is that there is no legislation in place that considers what a herbalist is, in terms of authorised healthcare provider.
The second clause in the 1968 Medicine's Act relating to herbal medicines has already been removed by the above EU legislation and only licensed herbal products can be sold over the counter. Shops have been allowed to sell of existing stocks but once those stocks are gone the range and number of herbal medicines will be restricted. It will not be long before that applies to what herbalists do i.e. we will not be able to supply unlicensed medicines unless we have authorised healthcare status. This means, if you are one of my current patients, I will not be able to give you medicine any more. All of those bottles that you see on my shelves will disappear, and I will not be able to make you up a medicine specifically designed to help your health problems. Essentially, this means the practice of herbal medicine as we know it now will become illegal. I will only be able to prescribe for you the medicines that you can find in shops.
There are all sorts of reasons why SR is important but the most important is public safety - having access to, as well as the freedom to chose, safe, effective advice and treatment from properly qualified professionals who are governed by a Code of Ethics is the most important. Making sure that choice is available for generations to come is another.
There are also lots of people tied up in the supply of herbal medicines - from growers, distributors, even the delivery man who brings me my medicines and my bottles. This affects many people, and not just in the UK - many herbs are grown in poorer countries and are no small part of their economy. At a time when our economic situation is not good, we cannot afford to force more people into redundancy.
There has been a system of voluntary regulation in the UK for almost 150 years. Bona fide, properly trained practitioners are members of a professional association, which operates a voluntary register. This means they are governed and abide by a Code of Ethics which ensures public safety. The key word is voluntary. Recent court cases where the public has suffered abuse, or mistreatment leading to harm, have all involved so-called practitioners who have limited or no training, are not part of any professional association, and are not bound by a Code of Ethics. Statutory Regulation will protect the public from these sorts of practitioners. Thankfully these cases have been few in number. Voluntary regulation does not protect the public because no-one is bound by law to join a professional register or meet the training and ethical standards needed to join that register, in order to be called, and practise as, a herbalist.
We can't do it alone. We herbalists, and all of our patients, need your help.
You can also write to your MP and raise this issue with him or her. And you can write to Dan Poulter, the current Health Secretary.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.