Thankfully all professions, including natural health practitioners, are increasingly regulated which helps to ensure they have undergone the requisite training, are insured and have registered with the appropriate regulatory body. Chinese medicine (acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine), which is practised and utilised widely throughout Australia, has recently been added to the existing health professions that are regulated in all states/territories of Australia. Until recently each State and territory had implemented its own regulatory framework, which has resulted in a fragmented and inconsistent status quo – particularly for consumers. ntpages spoke to Debra Gillick, Executive Officer for the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia, for more background on the new legislation and its implications.
Firstly, tell us a little about Chinese Medicine regulation in Australia.
"The CMR Board of Victoria was the first statutory authority to regulate Chinese medicine in Australia. The Chinese Medicine Registration Act 2000 became fully operational in Victoria on 1 January 2002 and was later replaced by the Health Professions Registration Act 2005 which will soon be replaced by national legislation. What this means is that since 1 January 2002 it has been a legal requirement for all acupuncturists and practitioners of Chinese herbal medicine in Victoria to be registered – which is the equivalent to having a license to practise. From 1 July 2012 however this will became a legal requirement throughout Australia."
What is your role now?
"I support the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia through my employment with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - AHPRA. AHPRA provides administrative support for the national baords of 14 regulated health professions in Australia. The Board's function is to apply the law in protecting the public through regulation of the practice of Chinese medicine including acupuncture and the prescribing and dispensing of Chinese herbs. This is achieved via the process of registration of practitioners and investigation into the professional competence and fitness to practise of registered practitioners. This requires the Board to ensure practitioners are suitably qualified and to investigate complaints (notifications) about them."
What is the background behind the current move to regulate health professions?
"In Australia, for any health profession to become regulated by law (often referred to as statute) the parliaments of all states must agree it is necessary in order to protect the public. In effect, it is deemed that the particular health practice should not be offered unless the practitioner has been properly assessed to be adequately qualified, currently competent and is a fit and proper person to practise in that profession."
Do associations not provide some measure of protection for consumers?
"Yes, but not in the same way. Associations are effectively groups of practitioners who form an alliance to primarily represent their own interests. This is highly valued and fulfills an important role, especially when there is no statutory regulation - but they are voluntary with no legislative power."
Which professions will be regulated – and from what date?
"Already the following ten health professions are regulated in all States/territories of Australia:
- Dental care practice
- Medical practice
- Nursing and midwifery
The following four health professions, which are currently regulated in some but not all jurisdictions, will become regulated in all States/territories of Australia from 1 July 2012:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practice
- Medical Radiation practice
- Occupational Therapy
- Chinese medicine (acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine)
What is the primary objective of this regulation?
"As with all the other regulated professions, the primary purpose of statutory regulation is protection of public health, safety and welfare."
How are standards developed for registration and accreditation?
"Boards develop draft codes and guidelines, circulate them to stakeholders and published them on their websites for consultation. Under the National Law, the following five mandatory standards are required for approval by the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council, for each of the regulated health professions:
- Professional indemnity insurance
- Criminal history
- Continuing professional development
- English language skills: and
- Recency of practice
The National Law requires the national Boards to undertake wide-ranging consultation on proposed registration standards and codes and guidelines."
What checks will a practitioner be subjected to?
"Every registration applicant must submit an application with evidence of their qualifications, have a criminal history check and provide evidence of compliance or agree to comply with the mandatory standards. Some applicants may be subject to checking of qualifications and competence."
How do I make sure a practitioner is registered?
"The national public register is available on the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHRPA) website 24 hours a day. Chinese medicine will be added to this from 1 July 2012."
Will practitioners be required to have professional indemnity insurance?
"Yes, as was the case in Victoria. This is one of the mandatory standards."
What would qualify as unethical or incompetent behaviour by a registered practitioner?
"This is a big question. The Victorian Board issued practice guidelines for registered practitioners which have been available on its website. The national Board takes over on 1 July 2012 and will be required to deal with Chinese medicine practitioners whose professional conduct or fitness to practise is in question. Anyone can make a notification to the Board about a Chinese medicine practitioner who is, or was, registered with the Board. The Board will then investigate and find out if anything is wrong. If people have concerns or queries about registered practitioners they can contact AHRPA via their website or by calling 1300 419 495."