Government considers herbal medicine ban

The government is considering measures that would effectively outlaw herbal medicine.

Such a move is likely to be welcomed by groups who campaign for evidence-based medicine. But others warned that prohibition could make it harder to regulate herbalists, by driving them underground.

The proposal came in a DoH consultation on plans to subject alternative medicine to professional regulation. Experts argue that this would offer cheaper and more effective protection of public safety than attempting to regulate individual remedies.

The consultation was expected to consider how to implement regulation. But instead it re-opens the question of whether statutory regulation is the best way to ensure public safety.

It offers alternatives including abolishing section 12 (1) of the 1968 Medicines Act, which allows herbalists to practice.

NHS Alliance chairman Dr Michael Dixon said that any move to regulate alternative medicines should be ‘totally pragmatic'. ‘The public are already seeing these practitioners,' he said. ‘We need to be assured that they are safe and know what they are doing within the modality of those treatments.'

Some health professionals want a tougher stance on herbal medicines, however.

Professor David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London said: ‘Every other form of drug is tested for safety and efficacy. These guys have a complete loophole.'

He warned that many herbal medicines came in un-standardised doses, and statutory regulation would offer patients false reassurance that treatments were safe or effective and urged GPs to oppose it in the consultation, which runs until 2 November.

  • Read the full version of this story in this week's GP dated 21 August

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