The Current Situation on Herbal Medicine

You may or may not have been aware that there are some big changes to the way that herbal medicine is regulated during the past few years. This affects your ability to buy herbal remedies. Please take a moment to read this and please do take action if you would like to have access to herbal medicine in the future.

In 2005 a new E.U. law was passed called The Herbal Medicinal Products Directive. The United Kingdom agreed to comply with it and we are currently in a transitional phase. The result of the law is that after April 2011, no unlicensed herbal medicines can be sold over the counter. This means that the majority of herbal products will disappear from the market as it is too costly and complex for most companies to comply. So far, only about 39 products across the entire U.K. have got a new THR licence. You can get up to date information on this from the MHRA website.

Alongside this new THMPD law mentioned above, the intention was that herbalists would be regulated, so that they could still purchase the herbal tinctures and blends (known as "specials") that they use to create your unique prescription. Without regulation herbalists will not be able to buy any unlicensed herbal tinctures or blends, while today a herbalist may stock their dispensary with around 300 different herbal tinctures.

You might be surprised to know that currently anyone can call themselves a herbalist and trade as such. Reputable companies such as Napiers the Herbalists only employ fully qualified herbal medicines practitioners, who are also members of governing bodies such as NIMH (the National Institute of Medical Herbalists) and CCP (the College of Phytotherapy Practitioners). However, some people without qualifications, and often without fluent English, can and do practice as herbalists. This can lead to the misuse of herbs - such as contraindications with prescription drugs - that qualified herbalists are trained to avoid.

The Department of Health is running a Consultation to find out whether people think that medical herbalists should be regulated, or not. This will have important consequences and will determine the level of your and your family's access to herbal medicine in the future!

After April 2011 you will only be able to buy licensed herbal remedies (currently only 39 have THRs but hopefully there will more more over the next year). So any other herbal preparations you need can only be got from a herbalist. However, the herbalist will only be able to supply you if they are regulated, unless they make their own homemade tinctures - currently most are made in accredited factories with proper Quality and Batch Control procedures. So post-2011, in order for you to have the most choice in herbal medicine, it is important that herbalists are regulated. Click here for more reasons.

If all herbalists have to be regulated they will:
  • professional practitioners with an agreed level of training - a Degree in Herbal Medicine (like all those at Napiers)
  • regulated by a professional body and undergo Continuous Professional Development
  • adher to a code of ethics and be insured to practice
  • be more accessible to G.P.s and other healthcare practitioners
  • have access to a wide range of herbal medicines (of controlled quality)
If herbalists are NOT regulated as is the case now:
  • anyone will be allowed to practice and call themselves a medical herbalist - even if they are not qualified!
  • have widely varying standards of professionalism and qualifications
  • have little ability to hold dialogue with G.P.s or other healthcare practitioners
  • not be able to supply a full range of herbal medicines to patients
The consultation closes on 30 October this year. Please do one of or all of the following:
  • Write to your M.P. in your own words or download a template of Draft 1 on the left.
  • Copy this to your M.E.P. or M.S.P.
  • You can find your M.P.'s address by clicking here
  • Fill in the Consultation Paper (download here) or
  • Write to the Consultation Team in your own words or using Draft 2 or Draft 3 on the left to request they register your opinion
This is so important. People have used herbal medicines for at least 25,000 years and we want to retain our right of choice to do so in the future. Only by acting now can we influence the Government's decision.