'Draconian and prejudiced': Proposal to tighten complementary medicine laws draws Blackmores' ire

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Marcus Blackmore wrote wrote an open letter to the industry, calling the proposed new regulation "draconian", "simply unnecessary" and "nothing more than an attack" on complementary medicine. ©Getty Images
Marcus Blackmore wrote wrote an open letter to the industry, calling the proposed new regulation "draconian", "simply unnecessary" and "nothing more than an attack" on complementary medicine. ©Getty Images

Related tags Complementary medicines Regulation Australia

The Medical Board of Australia's (MBA) proposal to reassess the regulation of complementary medicines and practitioners who prescribe them has elicited a strongly worded response from Marcus Blackmore.

The Blackmores boss wrote an open letter​ addressing industry stakeholders, in which he referred to the proposed new regulation as "draconian"​, "simply unnecessary" ​and "nothing more than an attack"​ on complementary medicine.

He told NutraIngredients-Asia​: "I think this is borne of plain old prejudice and ignorance that our industry has suffered for years and years.

"I've been around a long time in this industry, and the prejudice the pioneers in these field have faced is still present. On the other hand, there's been a significant increase in the knowledge and use of complementary medicines."

He further said, "We sent out 26,000 letters on April 3 to try to encourage integrative medicine practitioners and their patients to write to the MBA, to prevent this from going through.

"Doctors who prescribe integrative medicine in Australia practice with the highest possible ethical standards, so we find this totally unwarranted."

Blackmores also issued a media release​ claiming that if implemented, the proposed policy would see "30% of patients' choice of doctor under threat"​.

Regulatory overreach?

The MBA's paper​ outlines its proposal of an updated definition of 'complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments' to include "any assessment, diagnostic technique or procedure, diagnosis, practice, medicine, therapy or treatment that is not usually considered to be part of conventional medicine, whether used in addition to, or instead of, conventional medicine. This includes unconventional use of approved medical devices and therapies"​.

Furthermore, it has strongly suggested that current guidance for medical practitioners who prescribe complementary medicines be subject to stricter practice-specific guidelines that "clearly articulate the Board's expectations of all medical practitioners and supplement the Board's Good medical practice: A code of conduct for doctors in Australia"​.

Doubling down on his criticism of the MBA, Blackmore said the Board was a 'law unto itself' as it did not report to the Australian government. It had initially given the public just six weeks to respond, but Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA) head Penny Caldicott successfully appealed for one-month extension.

Subsequently, health minister Greg Hunt managed to get the MBA to extend the deadline to June 30, and Blackmore said he hoped this would give the Board enough time and opportunity to hear the other side of the story.

For whom the bell tolls

Blackmore also warned that a new policy based on the MBA's regulatory proposal "could well sound the death knell for integrative medicine in Australia"​.

"But worse than that, it could mean that GPs who prescribe complementary medicine will be subject to scrutiny and may run the risk of losing their licences."

He added that there was no need for stricter regulations for complementary medicine as the Australian industry was already highly regulated.

"Every product has to be registered, manufactured in a facility whose standards are the same as those of drug manufacturing facilities, and come with scientific evidence to support its claims.

"This level of regulation is almost unique to Australia. We have a highly regulated system of public safety, and we've been told that in the past 10 years, there's been two deaths associated with complementary medicine usage in Australia.

"When those deaths were investigated, there was no causal relationship found between complementary medicine use and those deaths."

Blackmore is also confident that the current safeguards and accessible information for consumers are adequate, as complementary and integrative medicine must comply with strict requirements before they are approved for sale.

Furthermore, doctors are not allowed to advertise in Australia, and integrative medicine practitioners "will spend at least an hour on a first consultation"​.

However, he also pointed out that there were many unregulated complementary medicine products entering the Australian market via online purchases, and implied that the MBA was perhaps focusing its attention on the wrong target.

"None of those products have to comply with Australian regulations, which is an issue for companies like ours that have to contend with these unregulated products."

Complementary cooperation

Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA) has also responded​ to the MBA's proposal, saying it "does not support separate guidelines for medical practitioners who provide complementary medicine advice"​, and that "the current Good Medical Practice Code of Conduct should remain the principle basis to support safe practices and safeguards to patients"​.

CEO Carl Gibson told NutraIngredients-Asia​: "The concern is that, if progressed, a new set of guidelines would create a two-tiered system that would be divisive to the practice of complementary and integrative medicine, and lead to medical and allied healthcare practitioners under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) being unfairly and unreasonably targeted."

The deadline for submissions to the MBA for this consultation is June 30.

In a more positive development for the Australian industry, the Federal Government has launched a review of its ban on paying for natural therapies using private health insurance, just one week after it was implemented.

"Given the strong evidence base for natural therapies, we expect very positive outcomes from this review and hope that the findings will see natural therapies reintroduced to private health insurance policies, from April 1 2020 or earlier if possible," s​aid Blackmore.

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