How CAM is regulated

The practice of conventional medicine is regulated by special laws that ensure that practitioners are properly qualified, and adhere to certain standards or codes of practice.

This is called statutory professional regulation. Professionals of two complementary and alternative treatments – osteopathy and chiropractic – are regulated in the same way. But there is no statutory professional regulation of any other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners. For more information read Professional misconduct.

Most complementary and alternative medicine practitioners are not regulated by professional statutory regulation. This means it is up to you to find out whether your practitioner has qualifications, and will conduct treatment in a way that is acceptable to you.

Many complementary and alternative medicines have professional associations and/or voluntary registers, which practitioners can join if they choose. Usually, these associations or registers demand that practitioners hold certain qualifications, and agree to practice to a certain standard. However, in these cases there is no legal requirement that practitioners join an association or register before they start to practise.

You can learn more about using a professional association or voluntary register to find a practitioner by reading Finding a CAM practitioner.

Regulation of complementary and alternative medicine

Currently, practitioners of two complementary and alternative medicines are regulated in the same way as practitioners of conventional medicine. They are osteopathy and chiropractic. This regulation is called statutory professional regulation.

This regulation ensures that registered practitioners of osteopathy and chiropractic are properly qualified, and that they practise in a way that is safe and ethical, following the standards and codes set by their professional regulators.

These regulatory bodies can help you to find a registered practitioner, but they do not "recommend" particular registered practitioners.

  • All osteopaths must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council. It is illegal to call yourself an osteopath, or offer services as an registered osteopathy, without registration. You can learn more, and find a registered osteopath near you, at the website of the General Osteopathic Council.
  • All chiropractors must be registered with the General Chiropractic Council. It is illegal to call yourself a chiropractor, or offer services as a registered chiropractor, without registration. You can learn more, and find a registered chiropractor, at the website of the General Chiropractic Council.

Regulation exists to protect patient safety: it does not by itself mean that there is scientific evidence that a treatment is effective. To find out whether a treatment is effective, you need to learn more about the evidence for that treatment.

Learn more about the evidence for osteopathy. Learn more about the evidence for chiropractic.

Unregulated complementary and alternative medicines

In the UK, there is currently no statutory professional regulation of any other complementary and alternative medicine practitioners.

This means, for example, that anyone in the UK can legally call themselves a homeopath and practise homeopathy on patients, even if they have no training or experience. These practitioners are not legally required to adhere to any standards of practice. If you have a complaint about treatment you have received from a homeopath, you have no special legal rights beyond normal civil and criminal law.

The same applies to all other complementary and alternative medicines, except osteopathy and chiropractic (see above). This means that some practitioners of these treatments may have no or limited formal training or experience.

If you want to use an unregulated complementary or alternative medicine, it’s up to you to find a practitioner who will practise in a way that is acceptable to you.

Some regulated practitioners of conventional medicine also practice unregulated CAMs. For example, the Faculty of Homeopathy is a voluntary organisation for statutorily regulated health professionals, such as GPs, who also practise homeopathy. The organisations who regulate these professionals do not regulate their CAM practice, but would investigate concerns that relate to the professional conduct of their registered practitioner.

Voluntary registers

The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care accredits voluntary registers held by organisations that represent people working in a variety of health and social care related occupations.

 

You can check if an organisation has been independently assessed by checking the directory of accredited voluntary registers.

In the case of many complementary and alternative medicines there are professional associations or voluntary registers that practitioners can choose to join.

Typically, practitioners can only join these associations or registers if they hold certain qualifications, and agree to adhere to certain standards of practice. However, there is no legal requirement to join and practitioners can still offer services without being a member of any organisation.

If you want to use a complementary and alternative medicine where practitioners are not regulated by professional statutory regulation, you should make use of professional bodies or voluntary registers, where they exist, to help you find a practitioner.

You may want to check what arrangements there are for complaining about a practitioner. For example, does the association or register accept complaints, and what action will they take if you have concerns about your treatment?

Learn more in Choosing a CAM practitioner.

Page last reviewed: 23/11/2012

Next review due: 23/11/2014

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