Herbal and Chinese medicines that faced an EU ban are to stay on sale under plans to register UK practitioners for the first time. The Government moved yesterday to protect consumers wanting herbal products that will disappear from many health food shops after April 30.
Mr Lansley has approved a plan for the Health Professions Council to establish a register of practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines, who will be required to sign up by law.
But from May 1 consumers will be unable personally to buy many traditional herbal products under an EU directive passed in 2004, taking effect this year. Only those which have been licensed in a process costing £80,000 to £120,000 will remain on sale.
At least 50 herbs, including horny goat weed (so-called natural Viagra), hawthorn berry, used for angina pain, and wild yam will no longer be stocked in health food shops, says the British Herbal Medicine Association.
The EU directive demands that a traditional herbal medicinal product must be shown to have been in use for 30 years in the EU – or at 15 years in the EU and 15 years elsewhere – for it to be licensed.
The UK drug safety watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Agency, has issued more than a dozen alerts in the past two years, including a warning last month over a contaminated weight loss pill called Herbal Flos Lonicerae (Herbal Xenicol) due to concerns over possible side-effects.
Mr Lansley, in a written statement, said the Government wanted to ensure continuing access to unlicensed herbal medicines via a statutory register for practitioners ‘to meet individual patient needs’.
All UK health departments will consult on the legislation, and the aim is to have it in place in 2012.
Acupuncture falls outside the EU directive and so remains unaffected.
Prince Charles, a long-standing supporter of complementary therapies, has voiced his support for formal regulation of herbal practitioners.
Michael McIntyre, chairman of the The European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association, said: ‘The Government is to be congratulated on making the right decision to bring in statutory regulation for all those prescribing herbal medicines.
‘Ministers have clearly recognised that this legislation is for patients’ benefit and we look forward to working with the Department of Health and Health Professions Council to implement this as soon as possible.’
Professor George Lewith, professor of health research at Southampton University, said: ‘Evidence for the efficacy of herbal medicines is growing; they may offer cheap, safe and effective approaches for many common complaints.’
Kaye McIntosh, of the College of Medicine, said: ‘Without statutory regulation, many herbal practitioners in the UK would have been unable to continue practising and thousands of patients would be unable to make the choice to use herbal treatments.’
At least six million Britons have consulted a herbal practitioner in the past two years, according to Ipsos Mori research.