Chinese herbalist sector trends

Man with glasses in white lab coat mixing herbs in front of rows of herb jars

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the complementary and alternative medicine sector

Recent years have seen interest in, and use of, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) increasing considerably for a number of reasons:

  • GPs have less time to devote to their patients
  • conventional healthcare has become more impersonal
  • patients are concerned about the increasing use of powerful drugs
  • many chronic conditions such as psoriasis and so on do not respond satisfactorily to conventional treatment
  • patients are better informed and more willing to try alternative therapies
  • complementary therapists are providing an increasingly professional service
  • the medical profession has acknowledged the benefit to patients of providing both conventional and complementary treatment
  • the number of complementary therapists has grown, so that people can more easily access them

The five most common therapies are acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic, herbalism and homeopathy. Currently only the osteopathic and chiropractic professions are regulated by law. Some years ago the government stated that herbal medicine and acupuncture should also be regulated by statute and two Working Groups were set up to establish the best way of achieving this. After the Working Groups had published their reports the Department of Health set up a joint Steering Group to actively prepare for statutory regulation. In a report published in May 2008, the Steering Group emphasised the urgent need to proceed towards statutory regulation of the profession by the Health Professions Council (HPC), later renamed the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

In November 2008 the HPC recommended that they should formally regulate acupuncturists, Chinese medicine practitioners and medical herbalists. However in April 2010 the government recommended that instead of being statutorily regulated by the HCPC, herbal and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners should be regulated by the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) on a voluntary basis.

This decision dismayed complementary therapy practitioners who had been pushing for statutory regulation of their profession, firstly to protect members of the public and secondly to allow herbal practitioners to continue to provide their patients with herbal medicines after April 2011. In early 2011 the government announced that the HCPC would become the statutory regulator after all. In May 2013 the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) wrote to the Department of Health, formally raising their concern over the lack of progress towards statutory regulation of herbalists. In February 2014 the Herbal Medicines and Practitioners Working Group (HMPWG) set up by the government to explore the issue of herbal practitioner and product regulation met for the first time. The final report of the HMPWG was released in March 2015. To the dismay of many in the profession, the report recommended that statutory regulation should not go ahead after all. Instead a voluntary register for herbal medicine practitioners should be set up which could seek accreditation from the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) in due course.

Licensing of herbal medicines

The Working Group had also looked into the sale of herbal remedies and made certain proposals to regulate these medicines and the manufacturers that supply them. Under the provisions of the EU Directive on Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products, from October 2005 pre-prepared herbal medicines sold over the counter must be registered and comply with certain standards relating to safety, quality and labelling. This applies to unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines that have been placed on the market since 30 April 2004. Other unlicensed products placed on the market before this date were given a transitional period until April 2011. Since this date they have had to be licensed under the Traditional Herbal Medicines Registration Scheme, or licensed with a marketing authorisation as a herbal medicine. Practitioners could continue to sell existing stocks of unlicensed herbal remedies until they ran out, with a final cut-off date of April 2014. At the moment the legislation still allows herbalists to make up and supply unlicensed remedies for a patient at the herbalist's premises following a one-to-one consultation.

Keeping up to date with developments

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up to date with developments. There are a number of organisations representing the interests of herbal medicine practitioners. The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) was set up to regulate the practice of Chinese herbal medicine. Members must comply with Codes of Ethics and Good Practice. You can get contact details for the RCHM and find out more about the register on their wbsite.

The Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture represents Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners in the UK. All members hold a recognised professional qualification. Contact the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine at ATCM, Suite 10, Brentano House, Unit 5 The Exchange, Brent Cross Gardens, London NW4 3RJ.

Many Chinese herbalists are also qualified acupuncturists. The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) maintains standards of education, ethics and good practice. BAcC, 63 Jeddo Road, London W12 9HQ.

Other organisations of interest to Chinese herbal medicine practitioners include:

  • Confederation of Healing Organisations (CHO)
  • the National Institute of Medical Herbalists
  • the European Herbal & Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA)
  • the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
  • the Association of Physical and Natural Therapists

The Journal of Chinese Medicine (JCM) contains articles and news of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, qigong and other matters of interest to practitioners. The online JCM bookshop offers a wide range of publications for sale.

Trade shows

You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show for the complementary therapy sector. Visit the Exhibitions UK website for further information of forthcoming exhibitions.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.