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16 February, 2021

Public pressure forces Medical Board to abandon plans to target integrative GPs


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Public backlash has resulted in the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) formally announcing today that it has abandoned plans to target medical practitioners who provide complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments.

The MBA has announced that it will not change the existing professional standards framework in relation to patients seeking care from medical practitioners who provide these integrative treatments.

The MBA was overwhelmed by more than 13,000 submissions, during a 6-month consultation that closed on 30 June 2019, on options for clearer regulation of medical practitioners who provide complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments.

The vast majority (over 12,000) of the submissions the MBA received were sent via the Your Health Your Choice platform. Published submissions can be accessed via this link.

A subset of submissions typical of the thousands sent to the Medical Board can be read here.

Your Health Your Choice welcomes the MBA announcement as a major win for consumer choice and demonstrates the power the public has to protect its rights and the rights of health practitioners to continue to provide health services to the community that needs and wants them

Major back down by MBA and win for consumer choice

The long-awaited announcement represents a comprehensive backdown by the MBA and major win for consumer rights. It also safeguards the ability of medical practitioners to continue to provide integrative health services to the community, which is in high demand. The MBA has announced:

“The Board will not issue guidelines on ‘complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments’ and will continue to rely on the existing standards framework set out in Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia. The code includes guidance on patient assessment, basing clinical decisions on the best available information and considering the balance of benefit and harm, and informed consent.”

The consultation sought feedback about whether additional safeguards were needed for patients receiving care from medical practitioners who provide complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments. It looked at options to best protect patients and minimise the risk of harm to them, without stifling innovation, making a judgement about specific clinical practices or limiting patients’ right to choose their healthcare.

From the outset, the proposal was associated with controversy. Consumer and integrative medicine groups across the country protested that the MBA did not consult them prior to developing new proposed guidelines, also noting that existing MBA guidelines already adequately covered any perceived concerns. They also questioned the motives underpinning the process.

Such controversy was further fuelled by undisclosed conflicts of interest on the Medical Board that surfaced after the consultation closed, which further impacted public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the process.

Public submissions make MBA acknowledge that risk is not confined to any one area of medicine

Medical Board Chair, Dr Anne Tonkin, said the consultation was robust and the submissions shed light on both the issues and the possible solutions. She said,

“It is clear from the consultation that there is no simple equation linking areas of practice with risk to patients, and that high-risk practice is not confined to one area of medicine.”

“In effect, the solution we had proposed did not match the problem we were trying to solve and the labels we used – complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments – were not helpful in defining the level of risk posed to patients”.

The Medical Board said there was a persisting issue of patients being offered high-risk treatments that did not have an evidence base of safety and efficacy, which the consultation process confirmed was not limited to complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments. A related issue involves vulnerable patients not being provided with the information they would need to give genuinely informed consent.

‘It is clear that we need to carefully match safeguards for patients with high-risk practice, which occurs across a number of areas of medicine,’ Dr Tonkin said.

“We need to calibrate our regulatory approach to address risk, while also acknowledging patients’ rights to make informed choices,” Dr Tonkin said.

The MBA says that the Board will continue to refine its risk-based regulatory approach, so that regulatory safeguards match risk to patients across all areas of practice. This work will not be limited to specific areas of practice and will be developed over time.

“As we do this, we will continue to engage with the profession and the community,” Dr Tonkin said.

“The good thing about consultation is that feedback from the profession and the community helps make sure we target regulatory safeguards to address risk to patients, and avoid unintended consequences,” she said.

 

Sources:

16 Feb 2019. MBA media release – Board responds to consultation on complementary medicine. https://www.medicalboard.gov.au/News/2021-02-16-Complementary-medicines-consultation.aspx

Aug 2020. Public submissions – Public consultation on clearer regulation of medical practitioners who provide complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments. https://www.medicalboard.gov.au/News/Past-Consultations/Consultations-February-2019.aspx

25 Sep 2019. UPDATE: Medical Board of Australia and undisclosed conflicts of interest. https://www.yourhealthyourchoice.com.au/news-features/update-medical-board-of-australia-and-undisclosed-conflicts-of-interest/

27 Aug 2019. Medical Board of Australia Overwhelmed by Public Submissions. https://www.yourhealthyourchoice.com.au/news-features/medical-board-of-australia-overwhelmed-by-public-submissions/ 

23 Jun 2019. What proposed Medical Board changes could mean for you – deadline 30 June. https://www.yourhealthyourchoice.com.au/news-features/what-the-proposed-medical-board-changes-could-mean-for-you-deadline-30-june/

7 May 2019. Medical Board targets Integraive Doctors. https://www.yourhealthyourchoice.com.au/news-features/patient-integrative-healthcare-choices-under-threat-have-your-say/


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