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Ontario planning to deregulate traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture

Queen's Park in Toronto on June 1, 2021. Global News File

Ontario plans to stop regulating traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and acupuncturists, saying it would allow more people to work in the field, but people in the profession say they oppose the move and weren’t consulted.

Contained in recently tabled labour legislation is a section that would wind up the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario, the profession’s regulatory body that was established in 2013.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the proposed legislation would see oversight transition to the Health and Supportive Care Providers Oversight Authority, though registration with the authority would be on a voluntary basis.

“The practice of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture has been safely practiced for centuries,” Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement Wednesday.

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“This approach brings Ontario in line with other jurisdictions and will support individuals who have historically faced barriers to practicing, ensuring Ontarians have access to culturally appropriate care.”

Heather Kenny, the president of Traditional Chinese Medicine Ontario, which represents the interests of the profession in the province, said she is stunned by the move.

“The reason that we’re completely shocked is that there has been no consultation whatsoever on the part of the government that they were even considering this move,” Kenny said.

Traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture are increasingly popular in Ontario, and having a regulatory college guarantees certain standards, she said.

“There’s a guaranteed level of competency, there’s an expected level of patient care, an expected level of ethics and there’s also some very strict rules around how you treat patients,” Kenny said.

When the regulation was first introduced, some practitioners said it would prevent people from working as traditional Chinese medicine practitioners if they had learned it from their elders instead of in a school setting, or if they spoke insufficient English.

Liberal house leader John Fraser, whose party established the college, said it was done to protect the public.

“The purpose of regulatory colleges and regulation especially to health care and things like engineering, the first purpose is patient safety, protect the public,” he said.

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“So what I need to understand is, how is removing this college protecting the public? I don’t think it is.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she is worried about the change.

“Any time there’s a reduction in the oversight of health and safety and quality when it comes to health-care services, I get nervous,” she said.

Traditional Chinese medicine is an ancient treatment that focuses on acupuncture, herbal remedies, proper nutrition and Chinese massage to balance the yin and yang – or contrary forces – in one’s system.

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