It's only natural
Acupuncture is among the therapies to be regulated
Thirty percent of Catalans have used natural therapy at one time or another in their lives, according to the Barcelona Pharmaceutical College, and an average 67 percent of chronically ill patients use natural therapy as a complementary treatment method. Even with these high numbers, government oversight of many of these therapeutic approaches has long been lax-to-nonexistent, but that’s about to change.
Over the past eight years, growing concern has arisen in the Ministry of Health about the legitimacy of natural therapies based on “philosophical grounds which vary considerably from those governing conventional medicine.” Officials have said there is a need to redress regulations in order to “bring to the surface” those practitioners who are unauthorised or unqualified.
Over the past decade, the European Commission has noted the increasing public demand for natural therapies, and funded more scientific research into assessing their efficiency and complementary effects. The World Health Organisation also issued a report on the subject in June 2004. “We’ve used these official recommendations as an excuse to promote the regulations bill,” said Dr. Lluis Torralba, the deputy director general of health care resources in the Generalitat. “Our only real motivation is to safeguard the health of Catalunya’s citizens.”
Torralba attributed the enormous popularity of natural therapies to Catalunya’s high economic and educational level. At the same time, he noted, there were loopholes in the authorisation procedure that needed fixing: to apply for a business licence from the Finance Ministry, no proof of formal qualification was required. Torralba said this brought some unwanted practitioners from other countries. “There are unqualified therapists who come over from the UK, for example, and find they’re able to set up their own practice here.”
The new regulations in the natural therapy sector are designed to remedy such shortcomings. Minimum conditions to be met in terms of structure, equipment and activity of each natural therapy centre are outlined in the bill, and in the accreditation requirements. Practitioners who are able to certify more than five years’ experience need only provide their full documentation and qualification certificates, but for those with less than five years’ experience, it won’t be so easy. The Institute of Health Studies will implement a theoretical and practical competence evaluation, the latter to consist of around 20 on-the-spot, practical case studies.
Torralba sees the new regulations as essential to protecting public health. “No longer do we want to put people in the position of jeopardising their health in the hands of unprofessional practitioners. Vertebral manipulation, for example, is applied in several natural therapy practices and should be sensitively and, above all, professionally carried out. As the patient, it’s your body on the line and you should be able to trust the person working on you.”
It is anticipated that the new rules will affect some 3,500 establishments, 60 schools and 5,000 professionals throughout Catalunya. Torralba said he remains optimistic that standard medicine and natural therapies can coexist and compliment each other. “With the sector growing as it is now, I think in about 15 years or so, natural therapy training will gradually become incorporated into medical healthcare accreditation.”
The natural therapies subject to regulation under the new bill fall into three categories:
Those defined by ‘natural criteria’, such as naturopathy and homeopathy with an aim to balance, restore and harmonise patients’ health.
Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. All those therapies which draw upon the parameters of Oriental medicine, taking into account the physical, psychic, energetic, spiritual and social aspects of the patient.
Manual therapies and techniques: those disciplines employing the hands to help restore a person’s health and wellbeing. Included are foot reflexology, spinology, lymphatic drainage, chiromassage, diafreotherapy and kinesiology.