The Medical Practitioners Act 1978 established the Medical Council as the body responsible for the registration and regulation of the activities of medical practitioners. The activities of those engaged in alternative medicine are not regulated by the council, as the entitlement to registration requires a primary qualification in medicine from a specified body within the State, by a competent body or authority from another EU member state or by virtue of an agreement with a number of other states outside of the EU.
Draft legislative proposals providing for further, wide-ranging amendments to the 1978 Act are currently in the final stages of preparation in my Department, and draft heads of bill are due to be brought to Cabinet in the very near future. One of the primary concerns of the amending legislation will be to provide for increased public protection. A proposed new provision for an improved complaints mechanism will empower the Medical Council to investigate on its own initiative, or at the behest of the Minister or any member of the public, instances or reports of individuals claiming to be medical practitioners or providing services proper only to registered medical practitioners. This would permit the council to report its findings to the Minister and for the council to take appropriate action.
There are currently no proposals to introduce legislation to regulate practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine. However, in order to strengthen the regulatory environment for complementary therapists, my Department convened a forum in June 2001 to examine and explore practical issues involved, with particular regard to ensuring that the public is appropriately informed and guided.
Arising from the work of the forum my Department requested the Institute of Public Administration to prepare a report on proposals for the way forward taking into consideration the formal views of the representative groups that participated in the forum. The report, which was published in November 2002, delivers on action 106 of the Health Strategy — Quality and Fairness, and makes a number of recommendations on proposals for the way forward including the establishment of a working group to examine and consider regulatory issues; the continuation and development of a consultation process; and support for individual therapies in developing or strengthening their systems of self-regulation.
As recommended in the report, I established a national working group in May last year to progress the programme of work set out in the report and address its recommendations in order to advise me on future measures for the regulation of complementary therapists. The working group has met on five occasions and I understand it will be continuing its work in 2004.