Recently there have been several high-profile media representations questioning the effectiveness and role of naturopathic practitioners in the Australian health system.
These stories admitted they were focused on the fringe of naturopathic practice, and the concerns expressed by these commentators centred on the lack of regulation and variability of naturopathic practice, not naturopathic practice itself.
Naturopathy is Australiaâ€™s largest unregistered profession, used by approximately 1 in 10 Australians. Such a high level of public support, combined with lack of regulation, often resulted in untrained or unethical practitioners co-opting the title of naturopath.
â€œNeither of the two practitioners cited as the most recent high profile examples of â€˜naturopaths that are doing the wrong thingâ€™ would have passed the probity checks that come with registrationâ€ said Dr Amie Steel, director of the Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists.
â€œOne was a New South Wales nurse and massage therapist with no formal naturopathic qualifications who provided dangerous advice whilst misrepresenting as a naturopath. The other was a Queensland medical practitioner who began to use the title of naturopath specifically because it allowed her to continue her practice after being deregisteredâ€ Dr Steel continued.
â€œThese examples clearly demonstrate it is the unregulated nature of naturopathy, not naturopathy itself, which is putting patients at riskâ€
The recent National Health and Medical Research Council review of natural therapies noted that there was evidence naturopathy was effective for a variety of chronic conditions â€“ including anxiety, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal conditions â€“ but expressed concerns that the variability of training meant this effectiveness could not be ensured.
â€œIt should be noted that each and every one of the recent media attacks acknowledged that well-trained naturopathic practitioners were safe, professional and offered sound therapeutic adviceâ€ said Dr Jon Wardle, ARONAH administrator.
â€œClearly the answer is not to denigrate naturopathic practice as a whole, but to reduce the level of variability of practitioner through ensuring high standards of practice and education. Registration is the obvious solutionâ€