Using herbal medicines – is your therapist licensed to practise?

Words: Nicci Talbot

The EU Traditional Herbal Directive comes into force in May 2011. The aim is to regulate the industry (herbal medicine, acupuncture, and Ayurveda) to improve standards with imported herbal products and remedies, and to ensure that only practitioners who are ‘approved’ (on a new Register) will be able to sell or supply such medicines to their clients. It’s a crackdown on imported goods that haven’t been licensed or tested for safety and quality, and the government wants to standardise things across the EU, which is a good thing.

The issue of regulation for herbalists, acupuncturists, Ayurvedic and TCM practitioners has been on the agenda since 2000 so the announcement this week about the introduction of statutory regulation is good news and has taken a while to formalise. It will enable therapists to continue practising after the Directive comes into play and they will need to demonstrate proper training, qualifications, and skills to do so. This is good news for consumers, as previously someone with limited knowledge and training could set himself up as a therapist, and sell unlicensed (untested) products to consumers.

According to a public consultation in 2008, over 6,000 people were in favour of statutory regulation of herbal practitioners.

The Health Professions Council (HPC) will administer the Register. They are an independent statutory body that aims to ensure practitioners are properly qualified and trained. Kaye McIntosh, Vice Chair at The College of Medicine said this week: “Without statutory regulation many herbal practitioners in UK would have been unable to continue practising and thousands of patients would be unable to make the choice to use herbal treatments. Statutory regulation of this sector is clearly the best way to ensure the safe provision of herbal practice.”

There are pros and cons to the Trade Directive. On the plus side, it means better safety for consumers, quality assured products that meet EU safety standards, and properly trained practitioners. Once a product has been assessed as safe it will be given a licence with a PL or THR number. On the negative side, it restricts consumer choice and means that some products will disappear from shops or the internet because it won’t be worth the cost of licensing them. Those selling unlicensed products will have to apply for a licence and make sure that the product complies with published standards.

If you want to read up on this to see what impact it will have on products you may be using see the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency website. It has public assessment reports, and herbal safety advice and news.

I have been selling Secret Ceres – a herbal stick that cleanses and tightens the vagina. It contains pomegranate, dripstones (crystals) and kaolin and has been used in Asia for years but as it’s a new product in the EU it is now subject to testing and approval. My supplier, Natural Body Care Ltd will have to apply for a medicinal license to sell it, as a cosmetic one is no longer sufficient. I’m curious to know how personal lubricants compare, and whether they will be licensed in the same way. They are absorbed internally by the body and the chemicals they contain go into the bloodstream so in effect, they are ‘medicinal’ products.

For the time being I have to stop selling it until the new licence is in place. I hope this is viable for Natural Body Care and will keep you posted. It would be a shame to see it disappear as I think it’s a useful and fun product.


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