‘Under Pressure’: Why New Regulations for Chinese Herbal Medicine Practitioners are Necessary
August 1, 2012
The Fresh Outlook
Currently Chinese herbal medicine practitioners aren’t officially regulated in the UK. This can often lead to misdiagnosis and ‘pressure selling’.strong>
Over the past few years, the issue of ‘pressure selling’ has gained a lot of attention, particularly in regards to doorstep sellers targeting the elderly, which has led to the introduction of new laws.
However, it can be more difficult to avoid so-called ‘pressure selling’ tactics in a shop or other retail environment.
The Fresh Outlook spoke to 81-year-old Mrs Hoskin who told of her ongoing experience with alleged pressure selling and misdiagnosis in a shop branch of a Chinese herbal medicine chain.
She visited the shop to have acupuncture treatment, and was under the impression that the cost would be around £25 per session. There was no discussion about the price, the length of the course of treatment, or the possible side effects of acupuncture, before she had the treatment.
After the initial treatment was over Mrs Hoskin was told that “the practitioner had decided that I have got kidney problems, liver problems and a load of other things. They said I would need six weeks acupuncture [priced at £300] … and I would need six weeks of their medication [costing £521].”
She stated that she could not afford the bill totalling at £821 for acupuncture and other medicines, but offered to pay £600 on her credit card and the £221 at the later appointments. She was soon uncertain about her decision: “By then I was totally confused, I stupidly paid £600 on my credit card. This is totally out of character for me, I am usually very alert, and never go into an agreement for money I do not have … I never ever go into anything that I know I can’t afford.”
A well known side effect of the first sessions of acupuncture is that it makes the patient sleepy and disorientated, and the combination of the side-effects and the shock of the price made Mrs Hoskin feel very confused.
“I suddenly came to and thought ‘oh my god what have I done?’ I thought I can’t afford this – I don’t need it. I’m certainly not in any state of mind to pay for it. I knew there was nothing wrong with my liver or kidneys because I had just had a diabetes check and a blood check at the doctors’ and they had all come back clear,” she says.
Although there are several voluntary organisations such as The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicines (RCHM) and the European Herbal Practitioners Association, there are no official regulatory bodies overseeing the treatments, practise or the professional conduct of Chinese herbal medicine practitioners.
Although it is not apparent that the company in question is registered with the RCHM, CEO Emma Farrant told The Fresh Outlook: “We would certainly be worried to hear that a member of the public was pressured into unnecessary treatment. We have a complaints and disciplinary procedure to deal with such problems.” She goes on to highlight that all RCHM practitioners are trained to Bachelor’s degree standard or above.
She explains: “Practitioners of Chinese herbal medicine … are not currently regulated by the government in the UK. Therefore the current position is that anyone can set themselves up under the title of herbalist or practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, with no reassurance for the public about standards of training. Some professional bodies, including the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine, provide a robust form of voluntary regulation of their members, but they do not cover the whole of the sector.
However, in February 2011 health secretary Andrew Lansley announced that herbal medicine practitioners would be regulated through a statutory register. The register is to be established by the Health Professions Council and is expected to be in place by autumn 2013. From this date, only practitioners who have been accepted on to the statutory register will be able to treat patients with herbal medicine.
As well as the apparent misdiagnosis, Mrs Hoskin felt that it was a pressured sale, which was made more difficult as the practitioner appeared not to speak English. She also goes on to say that she felt the reason for the high pressure nature of the sales, as she has subsequently found out that the staff at this chain have to meet high sales targets. “There was no way they where letting me out of the shop without the money for the full course of treatment … all over this country where ever there is one of these [shops] citizens are being ripped off.”
Unfortunately the law on refunds is clear. The Citizens Advice Bureau state: “If you brought something in a shop and then just change your mind about it, you do not have any legal right to return the goods.”
However, the law for a refund on treatments seems to be unclear, as the treatment is not a ‘product’ which has been purchased, so no ‘goods’ have been returned. When Trading Standards was contacted about this case they suggested that it was not an area that they deal with.
Mrs Hoskin returned to the store with the medicines and a concerned family member the next day. It was only once she said would get in touch with Trading Standards that the shop then produced a refund form. They told her that she could apply for a refund, but it would have to go though their head office.
“I sent it [the refund form] off … for at least a fortnight I didn’t get any reply. I phoned them up and they said ‘it was being dealt with’.
“It was over a month before they got back to me and said there was no way they would refund my money. The only thing they would do is give me gift voucher which I could give to my friends and family. Of course that was the last thing I intended to do.”
Mrs Hoskin’s case is not unusual. Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, recently stated: “Consumers in this country believe that they are well-protected but the reality does not support this view. The system for enforcing consumer law is fragmented and significantly underequipped to tackle a whole range of serious consumer scams.”
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK, recommends: “If you feel under pressure to commit, then just step away because any reputable company will allow you time to think an offer over.”
With new a statutory register for herbal medical practitioners coming into force this time next year, it is hoped that this will prevent the misdiagnosis and mis-sale of non-refundable products in the future.
By Sarah Leyland
[Image courtesy of acidpix]