Current Regulatory Situation
Federal Government reports have recommended that there should be effective and accountable structures to ensure that complementary medicine practitioners are appropriately qualified and work within appropriate standards of ethical and professional behaviour to safeguard consumers.
In this regard, the homeopathic profession in Australia has achieved some major milestones in the past eight or so years. As a result, the profession has already achieved the type of organisation and self-regulation suggested by the Government.
The homeopathic profession, in conjunction with the Federal Government, established National Competency Standards in Homeopathy in 1999. These standards are incorporated in the Government’s Health Training Package, and define what should be taught in accredited courses in homeopathy which are conducted by registered training organisations. The standards are reviewed by the profession biennially in conjunction with the Government. The Australian Homeopathic Association (AHA) supports this process, and has provided significant input by participating in the industry reference group representing the profession.
Perhaps the most significant advance took place when an independent national registration board was established, also in 1999, for homoeopaths who meet the government-endorsed standards. This board, the Australian Register of Homoeopaths (AROH), is the national register and self-regulation body for homoeopaths, replacing the registration role which had previously been fulfilled by the various homeopathic associations throughout Australia. The AHA was instrumental in supporting the establishment of this registration board and has significant on-going representation on the board.
The criteria for registration with AROH are based on the National Competency Standards in Homeopathy mentioned above, including underpinning knowledge, clinical competencies, medical sciences, etc. In addition, practitioners must annually maintain their continuing professional development (or CPD), hold a current senior first-aid certificate, and must have current indemnity insurance.
Practitioners registered with AROH are recognised by all the major health insurance funds for the purpose of rebates on consultation fees.
All of the above were achieved without any Government funding, but through the voluntary efforts of people passionate about their profession.
Problems with the Status Quo
Under the present self-regulatory system, there is no statutory protection of title, and unqualified individuals may declare themselves to be homoeopaths. Also, many complementary medicine practitioners who are not homoeopaths, and some medical practitioners, dispense homeopathic medicines but without a detailed underpinning knowledge of homeopathy.
In Australia, many people have never heard of the word ‘homeopathy’ and don’t know what it is, while others mistakenly think that homeopathy and naturopathy are identical. Naturopathic training may include training in homeopathy as an elective amongst a range of other modalities, rather than as the dedicated focus of study. While some naturopaths may undertake further studies in homeopathy, the general level of training does not meet the National Competency Standards required for registration with AROH. As mentioned above, unfortunately, the term ‘naturopathy’ is more well-known than ‘homeopathy’. Consumers need to be educated to understand what homeopathy is, that there is a difference between homeopathy and naturopathy, and to seek the services of a properly qualified and registered homeopath, rather than just relying on a practitioner’s advertising. A major focus of the promotional activities of the AHA is aimed at providing such information (see below).
After extensive investigation by a Government expert committee and input from the AHA, the Federal Government is planning to develop a system for the statutory regulation of complementary medicine practitioners, including homoeopaths. AROH-registered homeopaths already meet all the criteria specified by the Federal Government for the status of ‘recognised professionals’, and we now await the endorsement of this recommendation in appropriate legislation.
The Australian Homeopathic Association
The Australian Homeopathic Association is Australia’s only national professional association for homeopathic practitioners, and has branches in the States of Australia. Branch Committees provide the day-to-day running of the Association in their State, including the organisation of local seminars, while the National Council of the Association (made up of representatives from each Branch) sets the strategic direction and overall policies, and provides such services as are considered best achieved at a national level. Significant achievements (and savings) are made via the combined energies of the committees throughout Australia, all of whom are unpaid volunteers.
Since relinquishing the role of registering practitioners and handing this function to AROH, the AHA has shifted its focus. The AHA’s role has always included the provision of services to members, the promotion of homeopathy, education of the public and governments, the lobbying of governments and regulatory bodies, and participation on various committees and bodies which are related to homeopathic standards, education and regulation. All our efforts are now concentrated on achieving these objectives.
While the minimum educational standard for registration is presently at the level of an Advanced Diploma in Homoeopathy, there are now a number of Degree programs in homeopathy at universities and private colleges. The AHA has membership on the course advisory committees of many of these institutions.
The AHA’s professional journal, Similia, is Australia’s only journal designed specifically for homeopaths. A peer-reviewed journal which is indexed by CINAHL, its contributors are mainly from Australia, but also includes articles from leading overseas practitioners.
The AHA provides regular seminars with leading local and international homeopaths. Australia’s only national homeopathic medicine conference, conducted biennially, is also organised by the AHA, with each Branch taking turns in hosting this major event. The 6th conference will be held in Sydney 12-14 September 2008.
The manufacture and sale of homeopathic preparations in Australia is controlled by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration). The AHA has an ongoing dialogue with the TGA, working on a sub-committee to help ensure that our members have access to the full range of homeopathic medicines, prepared in an approved and accountable manner.
AHA’s Branch Committees have always conducted promotional activities in their own States. For the past three years, this effort has been coordinated and enhanced by the activities of the National Council. The AHA promotes an annual national campaign during World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW) to promote homeopathy in the community via our Professional membership.
A significant amount of the annual budgets at both national and State levels is allocated towards activities which are planned for WHAW. Members are encouraged to participate in grass-roots activities in clinics, community centres, libraries, etc. Branch Committees and National Council support members by providing them with kits of promotional material designed for the occasion, much of it provided free-of-charge. Each year a special publication is created and distributed as widely as possible throughout Australia via an insert in a selected health-related magazine. The insert explains homeopathy, the credentials and registration status of AHA’s Professional Members, some simple examples of homeopathic cases, and a listing of all of AHA’s Professional Members, sorted by suburb within each State. Additional copies of the AHA insert are printed, for use in Branch promotional activities or for members to issue to patients and others.
The AHA has created a very short and simple advertisement (publicising the AHA website), designed for use in cinemas. Some Branches have arranged to give public talks, or radio advertisements, or regular spots on local radio programmes. Others have arranged to have a large banner stretched across a major street, advertising World Homeopathy Awareness Week and the AHA website.
These are just a few of the AHA’s activities, all achieved by dedicated volunteers. For more information about the AHA and our activities, see www.homeopathyoz.org.