MEDICAL herbalists say their profession is under threat and they will no longer be able to prescribe traditional remedies such as St John's Wort unless urgent action is taken by the UK government to regulate the sector.
At a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament yesterday, they said changes to European Union rules from April 2011 will mean all herbal medicinal products must be licensed and prescribed only by "authorised health professionals".
The herbalists said that without statutory regulation they will be unable to provide patients with medicines made by third-party manufacturers and that without access to the full range of medicines and prescription services, they could face closure.
A Department of Health public consultation on the statutory regulation of medical herbalists, acupuncturists and other practitioners of traditional medicine ends on Monday.
Fiona Morris, a medical herbalist and event co-ordinator of Save Our Herbs Scotland, said: "We urge people to support the regulation of practitioners in this consultation and to respond to the government's request for comment.
"We want herbal medicines to be freely available, but at the moment anyone can set up as a herbalist and prescribe. With statutory regulation, herbalists will have far greater responsibility for their actions."
Dee Atkinson, owner of Napiers, the UK's largest herbalist, said: "This is a big public safety issue. It is unusual to want to be regulated, but it something we've been working towards for ten years.
"We want to be regulated by the Health Professions Council and they want to regulate us. This would give us professional status and a code of ethics."
Ms Atkinson added: "We see about 22,000 patients a year and one in four people visit herbalists. Herbal medicine is highly popular in Scotland with Napier University offering a degree course and the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine also offering training courses."
Mike Pringle, the Lib Dem depute justice spokesman, offered his support, saying:
"We should have more choice and opportunity to access what we believe to be appropriate medicine and not just be stuffed full of pills prescribed by GPs."
A spokesman for the National Institute of Medicinal Herbalists, said only statutory legislation would allow the public to identify qualified practitioners and maintain the full availability of a full range of herbal medicines in herbal practice.
SOME of the herbs which can only be prescribed by GPs after April 2011 unless herbalists gain statutory regulation:
ST JOHN'S WORT:
Used to treat depression. Last year scientists said it was as effective as Prozac but with fewer side effects. However, it should not be taken by patients already taking blood thinners or anti-depressants as it can bring on strokes.
Used to treat colds, fevers and shortness of breath. Has sedative and tranquillising properties and is most widely prescribed for insomnia.
Often prescribed as a liver tonic, particularly for hepatitis. It blocks the entry of toxic substances into the liver's cells.
Used to calm irritated red skin. Also given for digestive problems, asthma and bronchial conditions and is used as an anti-inflammatory.