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Herbal medicine in disarray after government does U-turn on regulation promise

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Herbal medicine in the UK is in disarray this week following an 11th-hour decision by the government to go back on its promise to regulate practitioners. This means the public will not be protected from ‘cowboy’ herbalists and some remedies may no longer be available.

This volte face, on the day Parliament went into recess before the General Election campaign, was announced by deputy chief medical officer Prof David Walker, who said there was insufficient evidence that herbal medicine works, and so setting standards of good practice would be impossible. Instead, he is promoting a voluntary register.

The decision overturns a promise made by the then health secretary Andrew Lansbury in 2011 to introduce a statutory register for herbal practitioners. The register was supposed to protect herbal medicine and its treatments from the EU’s Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products directive, which came into force in 2011. The directive is designed to control over-the-counter herbal remedies, which have to be approved by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before they can be sold.

However, these remedies would still be available through herbal practitioners who had joined the register, whether or not they had received MHRA approval. “This government wishes to ensure that the public can continue to have access to these products,” said Mr Lansbury.

Medical groups such as the Royal College of Physicians protested that the move gave legitimacy to herbal medicine that was not deserved-a minority voice that has won the day.

(Source: Daily Telegraph, 28 March 2015)

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