Naturopathy studentsSenior Southern Cross University natural and complementary medicine academics have welcomed a move to establish a register of qualified and professional practitioners of natural medicine.

Two major branches of natural medicine have been targeted – naturopathy and Western herbal medicine. A steering committee, representing key complementary medicine stakeholder groups, has been established to set up the Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists (ARONAH), which will independently register practitioners and set uniform standards.

The committee will develop procedures and principles in preparation for launching the register in 2010. It believes that the register will function as a transitional body until the Federal Government accepts the need to register these professions by statute.

Southern Cross University made history in 1995 when it established the first Australian university-based degree in naturopathy.

It continues to be a leading force in education and research in the field, now having 300 graduates from the Bachelor of Naturopathy and expanding its natural medicine course offerings to include a Master of Acupuncture and a Bachelor of Clinical Sciences (Osteopathy), as well as a Master of Clinical Science in Complementary Medicine.

“This move to set up a national register represents a major step in the progress towards the full professionalisation and acceptance of these unregulated professions,” said Paul Orrock, naturopath, osteopath and senior lecturer at Southern Cross University and a member of the steering committee.

“It aims to ensure that the public and other health professionals can trust the quality of the practitioners on this register.

“It will give the public and health practitioners the same guarantee of educational, clinical and ethical standards they currently receive from the government-registered health professions in Australia like medicine, nursing and allied health.”

Professor Stephen Myers, of NatMed Research at Southern Cross University and also a member of the steering committee, said: “Graduates in naturopathy from this institution need to complete a biomedical science-based four-year degree, yet they are afforded no differentiation from practitioners with little or no qualifications. Currently anyone in Australia can hang a shingle up and call themselves a naturopath or herbalist.”

Professor Myers said registration would enable consumers to check the credentials of practitioners.

“By and large the field is made up of well-educated professionals. But, unfortunately, there is no protection from people with little or no qualifications attempting to practice as a naturopath or herbalist,” he said.

“The time has come to set minimum standards.”

Research shows that nearly one in six Australians utilise complementary therapists as their primary care practitioners.

Mr Orrock said that other complementary therapists such as chiropractors, osteopaths and Chinese medicine practitioners were currently regulated or were undergoing the process of being regulated by the government.

However, naturopaths – by far Australia’s largest complementary therapy profession – have no such regulation. There are no national uniform standards for training or ethical practice, placing the public at risk from incompetent or unethical practitioners.

All registered health professions in Australia are currently undergoing a national registration process, due to be in place by 2010, Mr Orrock said.

Naturopaths and herbalists are currently not part of this process despite a strong recommendation in a report on the issue initiated by the Victorian government. The proposed practitioner-initiated ARONAH register is expected to mirror this process and afford the public a similar level of protection until statutory regulation is undertaken by the government.

The steering committee is calling for submissions on this issue until August 31 on their website www.aronah.org then a transparent process of appointing a board to run the register will occur.

PICTURE: Bachelor of Naturopathy senior student Bridget Aulton interviews a patient at Southern Cross University’s Natural Medicine Clinic, which is open to the public.