Our choice of healthcare, and that of most of Australians and New Zealanders, is under threat. The Medical Board of Australia (MBA) recently released a public consultation document titled “clearer regulation of medical practitioners practicing complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments”.
As most Australian medical regulations are eventually adopted into NZ medical practice I am writing this opinion piece partly as an early warning to New Zealand practitioners and also because New Zealanders can make submissions against the MBA’s proposals to limit patient choice of healthcare.
Based on a study as far back as 1997, 74% of New Zealand households use vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbal remedies, or other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) products. This use is likely to be higher now. The MBA’s proposed new restrictions, in essence, will mean doctors will no longer be able to recommend complementary medicines, even vitamins. For example, doctors will not be able to recommend their patients take vitamin C for a ‘cold’. This is a simple and non-life threatening example but patient choice and doctors autonomy is critical for optimal health.
Interestingly, a Pharmaceutical Society of Australia 2019 report from 1971-2019 reveals that annually, there are 250,000 hospital admissions and 400,000 emergency department visits at an annual cost of $1.4 billion, due to medication related problems. Compare these statistics to problems from vitamins and minerals and these numbers become even more shocking with zero supplement related problems in the same 48 year time period.
These startling relative risk statistics alone are enough to make tighter regulations on doctors ludicrous. They become even more unnecessary when you consider that NZ and Australian doctors are already regulated by the:
- Therapeutic Goods Act (1989) and Regs (1990)
- Professional Practice Standards under the Australian Medical Board and NZ Medical Council
- Various State/Territory facility and practitioner requirements.
As well as restricting doctors’ clinical autonomy on which treatments they can offer, the proposed MBA restrictions will also mean that Integrative doctors who typically conduct longer consultations to understand root causes of illness, will only be able to offer the most basic testing and management options. This would significantly limit the ability of GPs to offer patients individualised treatment plans.
Aside from the MBA public consultation document there are other threats to patient choice of practitioner including the following:
- Private Health Insurance rebates for natural therapies to be cut April 2019.
- Australian Government plans to introduce a GST Tax on natural medicines and therapies.
- Anti-complementary medicine lobby groups continuing attempts to influence health policy.
- Positive evidence ignored in Government-funded research.
- Complementary medicine educational courses being shut down and practitioners unable to access ingredients.
There is also a conflict of interest displayed by the MBA when you consider that some members of the MBA are public supporters of Friends of Science in Medicine, a group lobbying against complementary medicine.
Thankfully some countries are more enlightened and forward thinking with Switzerland’s government recently granting complementary medicine (including homeopathy) equal status with conventional medicine.
With their choice under threat, there is an even greater need for us to advocate for our patients. One patient advocacy group worth mentioning is ‘Your Health Your Choice’, which is Australia’s largest consumer campaign to protect people’s choice of healthcare.
The public consultation period for the proposed changes was due to end in April, however it has been extended twice due to the large number of submissions. To support patient’s rights to choose their healthcare make your submission before 30th June 2019 to the MBA at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Tracy Chandler BSc (Hons) MBChB FRNZCGP FNZSCM, PGDipSEM, Cert Dermoscopy, Cert Homeopathy, MACNEM member gained her medical degree in England. She worked as a general practitioner in Timaru before doing postgraduate training in sports, skin and integrative medicine. Her decision to specialise in integrative (wellness) medicine followed her increasing interest in the impact of nutrition and environment on health and wellbeing.