Frequently asked questions: Patients

 

 

What does this mean for me?

Many Australians utilise complementary medicine practitioners and some use them as their primary point of care.  Naturopaths and Western herbalists form amongst the largest complementary medicine professional group in Australia.  Whilst many are well qualified and have high practice standards, there is no uniform minimum education standard for entry to practice.  This makes it difficult to identify well qualified practitioners from poorly qualified ones, or even those with no training.  There is currently no national uniform code of conduct for naturopaths and Western herbalists, nor is there a simple and comprehensive complaints mechanism for the public to access.  This register will make choosing a naturopath or Western herbalist much safer and more effective.

 

Does this mean naturopaths and Western herbalists are not safe?

Naturopaths and Western herbalists utilise diet, lifestyle and various other treatments as part of their mode of practice.  When practised competently with appropriate clinical judgement by suitably qualified health care professionals, these modalities have a good safety record.  However, when practised incorrectly or by people without adequate training, these modalities have an inherent risk.

 

Will my naturopath or Western herbalist be on this register?

Each practitioner is assessed individually.  As long as your naturopath or Western herbalist has gained appropriate qualifications during their training and practised without breach of conduct, your practitioner is likely to be grandparented into the register even if they don’t have a modern degree qualification.

 

Won’t this restrict my choice of practitioner?

No, you are still free to consult the practitioner of your choosing.  The register is designed to increase your ability to make an informed choice.  By choosing a practitioner on the register you can be assured that your practitioner is appropriately qualified and has agreed to abide by an ethical code of conduct, with clear disciplinary processes for instances when this code is breached.

 

Aren’t the professional associations registering practitioners?

There are over 90 professional associations for naturopaths and Western herbalists in Australia which provide practitioner accreditation.  The problem arises from the fact that there are major differences in the minimum education and experience requirements to gain accreditation.  This register independently sets a standard level of entry for membership so you can be assured that a practitioner is appropriately qualified no matter what professional association they belong to.

 

How does this differ from the Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners?

The Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners (the Code of Conduct) currently applies only to New South Wales.  South Australia is also considering implementing similar legislation though this is not expected to be in force for a number of years.  At this stage no other states or territories have advanced plans to implement similar legislation, so the Code of Conduct as it stands offers protection to 32% of the Australian population – increasing to 39% when and if South Australia enacts similar legislation.  This still leaves over half the population exposed unnecessarily to potential risk.  On the other hand, ARONAH is a national register, and offers prospective protection regardless of specific State or Territory legislation.  Minimum practice standards are required by ARONAH and practitioners are expected to adhere to the Code of Conduct as set out by ARONAH.

The other major difference between the New South Wales Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners is that the Code of Conduct is reactive in nature whilst the ARONAH is proactive. The Code of Conduct is based on negative licensing – which levies no barriers to entry to practise but takes the right to practise away once practitioners have been shown to act unethically or unprofessionally.  It still requires harm to have occurred before the Code of Conduct legislation can be enforced.  ARONAH is proactive in that it tries to actively prevent exposure to risk from happening by ensuring those practitioners with minimum qualifications and practise standards are known to the public before health advice is sought.  Registration identifies practitioners who are less likely to pose risk before the patient sees them in addition to appropriately and independently handling retrospective events.  In a statutory registration model punitive measures for those who breach ethical or professional standards are equal to or greater than the Code of Conduct and for this reason ARONAH will be advocating for the statutory registration of naturopaths and herbalists under the federal government’s National Registration and Accreditation Scheme.

 

Won’t this simply legitimise a therapy with little evidence of benefit?

It is not the role of an independent register to comment on the evidence or legitimacy of the profession it registers but to safeguard members of the public who choose the registered practitioners. These issues were dealt with comprehensively by the original Victorian government report The Practice and Regulatory Requirements of Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine and a copy of this report can be found in the links section of this website.  The fact is that complementary therapies are widely used by the Australian population already and use of complementary therapists is increasing.  Visits to complementary therapists account for nearly half of total health consultations in Australia.  Naturopaths and Western herbalists are the largest complementary therapist group, are already being consulted heavily by the general public, and are already seen as legitimate therapists by those who employ their services.  This perceived legitimacy requires practitioners to abide by certain minimum educational and practice standards appropriate for any health profession.  It relates to the ability to identify situations where referral to other health practitioners is appropriate as well as delivering effective and safe treatment.  It is not the role of the register to promote or condone any one therapy, but rather to ensure that the therapies the public are choosing to use are delivered safely and ethically, and to ensure an independent and transparent complaints mechanism is available when appropriate.