Since our last update, the UK government has still been unable to tell us how it’s going to handle its plans for statutory regulation (SR) of UK herbal medicine practitioners.  As the ANH-Intl-convened united front consisting of the European Herbal Medicine & Traditional Practitioners Association (EHTPA), along with 17 associations representing herbalists, patients, suppliers and citizens reliant on herbal medicines and products, continues to urge the government not to break its promise of a statutory register, support for the campaign has widened.

We have now received a formal response, but it simply repeats verbatim the Coalition government’s non-committal stance, stating:

…The legislation around this policy area is complex and there are a number of issues that have arisen which the Department of Health needs to work through. I appreciate that the delay is causing concern, however it is important that any new legislation is proportionate and fit for purpose….

Despite strong rumours that an announcement was due 2 weeks ago, there is still no clarity on how the government aims to proceed.

Key campaign developments this week

  • On 6th June, Member of Parliament (MP) Sir Bob Russell tabled what’s known as a Parliamentary Early Day Motion (EDM), outlining the concerns and aims of the campaign.  You can find the EDM, No. 205, here, and we have reproduced the text in full below.  EDMs are used as a way of raising awareness of specific issues and campaigns among the MPs in Parliament, and can theoretically be the subject of formal debate in the House of Commons.  However, realistically, “There is very little prospect of EDMs being debated”.  The next step will be to get as many MPs as possible to sign the EDM!     
  • Some of you shared your MP’s response to your letter on SR.  All of them repeated the very statement issued above 
  • Perhaps most crucially, the government has neither confirmed – nor denied – that it will break its 2011 promise on UK herbalist SR, despite the new campaign supported by a united front of herbal interests and ANH that began on 8th May.  While a delay by the government in making a statement tells us nothing about how it will proceed, it provides us all with more campaigning time
  • This is not the first time a government has found itself in a quandary when dealing with regulation for herbalists.  In 2008, the European Commission (EC) indicated in its experience report on the EU Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive that, “The suitability of a separate legal framework for products of certain traditions should be assessed”.  Despite plenty of lobbying and pressure from Members of the European Parliament on this very point, the European Commission has steadfastly refused to pursue this course, stating simply that it is not a priority at present.

One has to wonder whether the go-slow in the UK is directly related to a similar lack of interest at the sharp end of things at the EC?  And, equally, how much of this might be being driven by medical interests that detest the idea of herbalists being given official status as healthcare providers…?

Call to action

  • Enormous thanks to all the UK public and practitioners who’ve got involved already!  However, there’s still more to do.  If you have a Coalition – i.e. Liberal Democrat or Conservative – MP in your constituency and you haven’t written to your MP yet, please do so using the instructions on our campaign page  
  • Now that we have an active EDM, those of you who don’t have a sitting Coalition MP can write to your MP and ask him or her to support it.  Don’t forget to give your MP an idea of the issues addressed by the EDM and let them know it’s EDM No. 205, tabled by Sir Bob Russell 
  • Ask your local independent health store to get involved with the campaign.  We’ve developed two flyers for them to use: a campaign flyer that they can display in their windows or in the shop, and a ‘sign & send’ flyer for customers to send to their MPs.

Text of EDM No. 205, ‘Statutory Regulation of Practitioners of Herbal Medicine’

That this House recognises that around eight million UK citizens rely on, use regularly or have used herbal medicines in the past; affirms that loss of the so-called herbalist's exemption, now part of the 2012 Human Medicines Regulations, would deprive herbalists of their prescribing rights in the absence of legislation enacting a state register of qualified herbalists; notes that two public consultations and two parliamentary committees have found overwhelming support for statutory regulation of UK herbal medicine practitioners; recalls the promise made on 16 February 2011 by the then Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, to set up such a register, a decision described by him at the time as one that "resolves a long-standing issue, to the benefit of both practitioners and the public who use herbal medicines"; foresees that, in the absence of easy access by the public to herbal medicine practitioners with the ability to prescribe individualised remedies, many people will resort instead to entirely unregulated sources for their herbal medicines, such as the internet; believes that patients obtaining herbal medicines from unregulated sources will put themselves at unnecessary risk; questions the wisdom of restricting UK citizens' healthcare choices at a time both of unprecedented pressure on the National Health Service and of national austerity; and therefore calls on the Government to explain the greater than two-year delay in making available for consultation by the four UK Health departments draft legislation for a framework of statutory regulation for herbal medicine practitioners, and give the House an expected timeframe for the issue of the draft legislation.

ANH SR campaign page

ANH-Europe homepage