Speech by Micheál Martin, TD, at the Launch of the Report on the Regulation of Practitioners of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Ireland

I am delighted to be here with you at the Institute of Public Administration this afternoon for the launch of the Report on the Regulation of Practitioners of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Ireland. The publication of this report is a unique initiative supporting the development of complementary and alternative therapies in Ireland

As you are all no doubt aware, I commissioned the report last year as a follow-up to the successful consultative Forum held here in the IPA in June 2001. I established the Forum to examine the practical steps involved in the better regulation of practitioners of complementary and alternative therapies.

At the outset, I would like to express my thanks to all who contributed to the preparation of the report. I am especially grateful to Tim O´Sullivan and his team at the IPA for their dedication and commitment in preparing the report, clearly manifested in the high standard of the final product.

I would also like to express my gratitude to all those – individuals and organisations – for their participation in the Forum and for their subsequent written submissions on future regulation, which have clearly played such an important part in shaping the analysis, findings and recommendations contained in the report. I would also like to thank Anne O´Keeffe of the IPA for facilitating the forum.

The report provides an invaluable road map towards strengthening the regulation of complementary and alternative therapists practising in our community. The publication of the report, therefore, represents a significant forward step in the development of a high-performing health care system for all.

Over the last year there have been a number of important developments, which, along with the output of the consultative Forum, have been influential in informing the conclusions of the report.

In particular, as you will have noticed from your invitations here to the IPA this afternoon, the launch of the report is delivering on an explicit Action – Action 106 – contained in the Health Strategy – Quality and Fairness -, published just over a year ago.

Action 106 of the Strategy signals our intention to enhance the regulation of complementary and alternative therapists, as part of the comprehensive programme of reform envisaged for the regulation of health and social care professionals generally.

The Health Strategy, therefore, reiterated the commitment I made at the Forum to better regulation of complementary therapists.

As detailed in the Health Strategy, there are a range of questions to be addressed in securing progress in the future towards strengthening the regulatory regime for practitioners of complementary and alternative therapies. These issues include:

  • the categories of therapists to be covered;
  • the evidence base for each therapy;
  • the educational qualifications, training and experience of therapists;
  • the scope of practice involved;
  • the protection of the public and promotion of a quality service, including the efficacy of the therapies offered;
  • regulations governing complementary therapists in other countries; and
  • current proposals of statutory registration of health and social care professionals in Ireland.

The Health Strategy identifies quality and accountability as two of the four key principles guiding the future development of health services in Ireland. These two fundamental principles are obviously just as relevant to complementary and alternative practitioners as they are to mainstream health professionals.

At its core, the provision of all health care is about people looking after people. Quality healthcare services must therefore be underpinned by the excellence of the skills, knowledge and expertise and the high standards of professional conduct maintained by all those who offer healthcare services to the public.

People´s trust in the standard of all care being provided must be copperfastened by a guarantee of quality and accountability. The development of such a quality culture is the responsibility of each and every provider of health care. Greater accountability must also come centre-stage for the provision of health care services to the public.

As highlighted in the Strategy, there are a number of important dimensions to the development of a high-quality and accountable health service. The IPA report assesses these requirements in light of your views expressed in the consultative process, international experience and also the breadth and diversity of services delivered within the complementary and alternative therapy sector in Ireland. It also reviews the steps that might be undertaken and mechanisms that might be put in place to better meet the imperative for quality and accountable care in the complementary sector.

Issues of particular importance in this respect, discussed in the report, include:

  • the education and continuous professional development of practitioners;
  • the development of research;
  • the protection of the public through better regulation; and
  • the gathering of better information on complementary therapies and practitioners;

Tim O´Sullivan will be making a presentation later on the analysis, main findings and recommendations contained in the report.

I would however, like to speak about some key features of the report which I believe are highly relevant to developing a more effective system of regulation for complementary and alternative therapists in Ireland.

Protection of the public must clearly be at the heart of effective regulation of any activity. As far complementary therapists are concerned, there is an overriding requirement to ensure that the general public are properly informed so that they can be confident that a practitioner providing a service is competent to do so.

A key aspect of future developments as highlighted in the report, must be the provision of reliable and up-to-date information to the public. In this regard, all of us are very aware of that the good name and reputation of the majority can be damaged by the actions of a small minority. The scope for better regulation to address such critical issues as the problems caused by unqualified practitioners is a clear example of the benefits that better regulation can bring to the complementary sector.

A key lesson from the international experience, which is also drawn attention to in the IPA report, is the importance of the development of strong voluntary or self-regulation for complementary and alternative therapists. I am very conscious that some progress has already been made in this area, over the last 18 months here in Ireland. This highlights the potential for practitioners working together to meet the requirements of an enhanced regulatory system.

The strengthening of systems of education, training and skills development is a further key priority for the future. We must also begin to bridge basic information gaps in terms of the availability of statistics on complementary therapies and practitioners. The development of research in this area also requires support and development.

In view of the overarching objective to ensure proper protection of the public, it must be a priority to move this demanding agenda for action forward swiftly, building on the excellent work already carried out by Tim O’Sullivan and the IPA with your support and assistance.

As identified in the report, this requires the adoption of a more structured and systematic approach than heretofore. The report therefore recommends the establishment of a broadly based National Working Group. The report envisages that this National Working Group should progress the agenda set out in the report, addressing the other important recommendations highlighted in the IPA report in order to advise me on future measures for the regulation of complementary therapists.

Consequently, I am very pleased to announce this afternoon, the establishment of a National Working Group.

I am also delighted to announce that the Group is to be chaired by Teri Garvey, the broadcaster and educationalist – who is here in the audience this afternoon. As many of you may know, Teri has a longstanding professional and personal interest in complementary therapies and I believe she possesses the knowledge, skills and expertise to make a very important contribution working with you and your representative organisations, through the National Working Group, in helping to build your sense of ownership for any developments in the regulatory environment.

In looking to the membership of the National Working Group, a balance must clearly be struck between the need to facilitate focused and effective working – which will constrain the size of the group overall – and the need to ensure appropriate representation, and required skills, knowledge and expertise. My Department will be working with Teri in the coming weeks in order to ensure that we get this balance right, with a view to holding the first meeting of the Working Group early in the New Year.

A National Working Group, operating in co-operation with the representative bodies in this field can continue to develop the consultative process, building on the goodwill and positive attitude towards better regulation expressed by participants at the Forum and in subsequent submissions. This will help ensure that in its work, the National Working Group remains fully informed of the views of all stakeholders in this process.

The approach we are adopting is therefore underpinned by a clear recognition that practitioners themselves are best placed to assess and evaluate the positive contribution that improved regulation can make to the delivery of services to the public.

It is clear that the consultative process, initiated at last year´s Forum has already borne fruit as evidenced by the excellent IPA report being launched today. I trust that that partnership approach that has supported in bringing this process to where it is today, will continue and be sustained in the future through support for the National Working Group.

On which note, I would like to wish you well in the important and challenging programme of work now to be undertaken for your sector.

I now invite Teri Garvey to the podium to say a few words of introduction to you and share some of her perspectives on the agenda for the better regulation of practitioners that lies ahead.

Thank you.