New government findings that people are flocking to natural and complementary medicine practitioners have been welcomed by Hans Wohlmuth, the head of Southern Cross University’s Department of Natural and Complementary Medicine.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures out this week show that the number of people visiting a complementary health professional — most commonly a chiropractor, naturopath or acupuncturist — increased by 51 per cent in the 10 years to 2005.

Almost 750,000 people (3.8 per cent of the population) had visited this type of practitioner in a two-week period in 2005 compared with about 500,000 (2.8 per cent of the population) in 1995.

In another vote of consumer confidence in the natural health sector, the census data also showed the number of people working as complementary health professionals nearly doubled from 4,800 to 8,600 in the ten years to 2006.

The leading occupations were naturopaths (2980) and chiropractors (2490), up 56 per cent and 45 per cent respectively from 1996. The fastest growing group was osteopaths, tripling in number between 1996 and 2006.

Mr Wohlmuth said there was a growing imperative for degree-level training to be made compulsory for those wishing to enter the natural and complementary medicine field.

“At Southern Cross University we offer professional degree qualifications in naturopathy, osteopathy and acupuncture,” he said.

“The university has been a leader in the provision of university-based training and education in natural and complementary medicine since 1995, when it became the first Australian university to offer a degree course in naturopathy.

“In the past decade, natural and complementary medicine has taken a huge step from being very much ‘fringe’ to becoming a very significant part of the Australian healthcare landscape.

“Every week, almost 70,000 Australians visit a naturopath, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, and there are now about 3000 practising naturopaths in the country — about 10 per cent of these are graduates of Southern Cross University’s ground-breaking Bachelor of Naturopathy.

“At a time when the country is facing serious shortages in the healthcare workforce, naturopaths represent a significant resource.

“But naturopaths are still not contributing as much to the provision of health care as they could be.

“The challenge for government is to implement proper professional regulation, so the public can fully benefit from what naturopaths have to offer.

“In 2007, Southern Cross University started a new Bachelor course which, in conjunction with a Masters degree, will provide professional training of osteopaths.

“Southern Cross University will be the only place in Australia outside Melbourne where students will be able to study osteopathy.

“Visits to osteopaths almost doubled between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, so there is a strong and growing demand for osteopaths in Australia.”

PICTURE: Hans Wohlmuth, head of the Department of Natural and Complementary Medicine at Southern Cross University, believes there is a growing imperative for degree-level training to be made compulsory for those wishing to enter the field.