Calls for registration of naturopaths highlighted on SBS Insight Program

The Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists (ARONAH) congratulates SBS Insight for hosting the important conversation about the integration of natural medicines in Australia which aired on Tuesday 12th September. We particularly note the calls for statutory registration raised by Professor Jon Wardle from Southern Cross University and supported by Professor Bruce Arnold from the University of Canberra.

ARONAH has been calling on the government to protect the public and register the professions of naturopaths and Western herbalists for almost 15 years, but despite the Government recommending this for the profession, naturopaths are not included in the Australian National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS).  (refer: The Practice and Regulatory Requirements for Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine. (pdf) 2005 Victorian government report on the regulation of naturopaths and herbalists).

While we were heartened to hear the positive stories shared by individuals (such as Athena Field) who had consulted with a naturopath, we also acknowledge the negative experience described by Chi Nguyen. Sadly, as clearly highlighted by Professor Wardle, the absence of statutory registration means there is no minimum enforceable education standards required for an individual to use the title ‘naturopath’. “One of the issues is the lack of regulation. So there is no minimum (education) standards required to call yourself a naturopath” said Professor Wardle. “Every government report has recommended regulation of naturopaths since the 2000’s but nothing’s actually happened yet. It also means it is really hard to make a complaint and hold those practitioners accountable.”

President of the RACGP, Dr Karen Price, rightly emphasised the importance of ensuring public safety when considering the integration of natural medicines in the Australian health system. Statutory regulation of naturopathy is critical to safeguarding the public.

When asked about impact of no regulation on consumers, Professor Wardle replied “the potential benefits get minimised and the potential harms get maximised. There is inability to access the good parts of naturopathy… and it basically means the cowboys and cowgirls… get a much greater voice than they deserve”. This means the positive contribution of naturopaths are being overshadowed while the negative consequences of unqualified individuals are amplified.

“ARONAH and naturopathic professional associations require new graduates to complete a four-year degree before being recognised as a naturopath in Australia,” says ARONAH Chair Jackie Arbuckle.  “However, the absence of statutory registration means that this requirement cannot be enforced. As a result, there is no way to respond when individuals who complete inadequate training, or no training at all, mislead the public by calling themselves a naturopath. It is very difficult for the Australian public to differentiate between a naturopath and an unqualified individual. This puts Australians at risk from unqualified individuals using the naturopathic title.”

In the absence of statutory registration, ARONAH has been established to mirror the statutorily regulated boards administered by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA) of the NRAS. However, ARONAH is a voluntary registry and no complaints have related to a naturopath registered with ARONAH. This limits the action that ARONAH can take in response and results in the complainant being re-directed to the relevant state bodies, or the police. 

To ensure their naturopath is qualified, members of the public can ask whether their practitioner is a member of ARONAH and a member of a naturopathic professional association recognised by the World Naturopathic Federation, which is the international peak body for the naturopathic profession.

This discussion on SBS Insight is a timely reminder that the Australian population needs urgent action on statutory registration for the naturopathic profession. The government needs to act on its own recommendations to register the naturopathy profession under the NRAS, otherwise the public will continue to be put at risk of potential harm.

For further information or to arrange an interview with an ARONAH board member:

Email: info @ aronah . org

The full SBS insight program can be viewed here (current as of September 2022)