News

President's update

We are not yet halfway through the year and already 2018 has thrown some challenges in the direction of our profession. Much of the work the board undertakes in responding to these issues is relatively unseen, as we lobby, respond, meet with and write to key stakeholders. Worse than being unseen is when misinformation is speculated or shared on social media, so I will be providing more regular updates on what the NHAA board is doing to grow awareness and understanding of what we do — not only to represent the best interests of our members, but the naturopathic and herbalist professions more broadly.

 

Health fund rebates: There was some misinformation about what this policy announcement means and why it is or is not an issue. The announcement by the Federal government signals the cessation of what are in effect government subsidies to the health insurance industry on certain natural therapy cover. As many of our longer serving practitioners highlighted, this is a relatively recent initiative and the consensus is that people will continue to consult with naturopaths and herbalists after this is removed just as they did before. What we believe is more of an issue, and the basis of our meetings and correspondence with Minister Hunt’s office earlier this year, is the unintended yet significant impact this change in policy will have on the professions we represent. Following is a summary of the issued we raised:

  • A range of therapies with markedly different education standards are inappropriately treated as equivalently. For example, a Certificate in Reiki is compared to a four-year degree for naturopathy (three-year degree for Western Herbal Medicine), which should not be considered equivalent due to the vast difference in scope and depth of the training and education. This in itself reflects negatively on the professions of Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine in the public eye through inference.
  • Conversely, Naturopathy is treated differently to Traditional Chinese Medicine (which is exempt from the changes), despite Traditional Chinese Medicine having the same or similar level of education standards. In many instances, in Traditional Chinese Medicine a practitioner may prescribe the same herbal remedies as a naturopath or Western Herbal Medicine practitioner.
  • Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine have previously been assessed against the requirements for registration and found to meet the requirements. Yet, due to a fast-moving change in the regulatory landscape from state to national registration when the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (the National Scheme) and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) was formed in 2010, Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine essentially ‘missed the boat’.
  • It is our understanding that the lack of statutory regulation of naturopaths and Western Herbal Medicine practitioners under the National Scheme (through AHPRA, as the agency that supports the National Boards to implement the National Scheme) is the key difference, and impediment, to naturopaths and Western Herbal Medicine practitioners’ adverse treatment under the policy change (that removes the government rebate to private health insurers in relation to a broad range of natural therapies).
  • Naturopathy (and Western Herbal Medicine) operate in a self-regulated environment in the absence of statutory regulation under AHPRA. A key element is the need for practitioners to join a professional association to access health insurer provider numbers in order to allow patients to claim private insurer rebates on the services rendered. This effectively creates a ‘pseudoregulatory’ function, and allows professional associations such as the NHAA to enforce standards of public safety. For instance, this includes, but is not limited to: ‘registered’ practitioner listings, codes of conduct, education standards and educational accreditation, monitoring of compliance with first aid certification, overseeing member professional development and continuing education activities, and ensuring practising members hold appropriate levels of professional indemnity and public liability insurance.
  • Removal of the government rebate to private health insurers in relation to natural therapies removes the ‘pseudoregulatory’ function which is currently acting in the public interest, and is likely to allow underqualified and non-compliant persons to practise naturopathy or Western Herbal Medicine with no professional checks or balances.
  • Registration under the National Scheme (that is to say, AHPRA) would address this issue.
  • The path for establishing new professions under the national scheme is not clear and the joint state and federal accountabilities for health policy add complexity to an already murky process. We specifically asked the Minister’s office for guidance and clarification.

We also directed the Minister’s office to a report commissioned by the Victorian government and published in November 2005, called ‘The Practice and Regulatory Requirements of Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine’. Published by La Trobe University and authored by Vivian Lin, Alan Bensoussan, Stephen P Myers, Pauline McCabe, Marc Cohen, Sophie Hill and Genevieve Howse, this is often referred to as the ‘Lin Report’ or ‘The La Trobe Report’. What a volume of work! I likewise commend anyone as a student, practitioner or interested ally who is not familiar with it, to make themselves so. It can be found here http://www.health.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/320188/naturopathy-final1106.pdf

The Practice and Regulatory Requirements of Naturopathy ...

www.health.vic.gov.au

School of Public Health The Practice and Regulatory Requirements of Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine Vivian Lin Alan Bensoussan Stephen P. Myers

There is no quick fix here. I hope this explains by way of example why the NHAA believes statutory regulation is important, as well as an insight into some of work the board does ‘behind the scenes’ for our members.

Australia’s oldest association: Founded in 1920, the NHAA is Australia’s oldest professional association of complementary therapists. Representing Western herbalists and naturopaths, we are the only national professional association specifically concerned with the practice and education of Western herbal medicine and naturopathy in Australia. The NHAA also represents Australia on the World Naturopathic Federation (WNF), an entity formed to advance the profession of naturopathy globally, including consultation with the World Health Organization. The WNF encourages regulation of the naturopathic profession in every jurisdiction as regulation of the profession ensures patient safety, practitioner accountability and professional integrity. I have also served as WNF Treasurer for the last 12 months, my term ended in May this year. The significance of this is several fold — we are approaching our 100th birthday. We will be celebrating our 100th year at the NHAA International Conference on herbal and naturopathic medicine in 2019 and we will be hosting the WNF General Assembly at that event! Hold space in your diaries now for what will be a milestone event in our proud history: 29–31 March, 2019 in Melbourne.

I look forward to seeing you there and, as always, we value all our members and your continued support.

Natalie Cook

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