Letter to Editor: Problems with Regulation of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Ontario

Dear Vitality,

I am a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner / Acupuncturist and will shortly be regulated by the College of Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario. I have been diligent in ensuring that I am properly qualified to work under the new legislation but am now confronted with a significant problem caused by the Council itself. The process for securing a registration number was delayed so significantly it appears that it will be impossible for most of us to be in compliance prior to the date the legislation and regulations come into force (April 1, 2013). The consequences of this are that many of us will have to suspend our practices, potentially for as long as months.

Without the delays described below, the requirements for application would have been possible to complete and have ready months ago, allowing the Council the time to complete the reviews of the applications and provide us with our registration numbers well before April 1st and thus allow us to stay in business with no interruption.

However, the application forms for registration were not made available to us until the end of February of this year. It takes time to pull together all of the information and money required to complete the application. Most of us are working full-time and need adequate time to do a proper job of it. The application process is especially difficult for the majority of practitioners who face discriminatory language barriers, as all paperwork and exams must be written in English or French. (British Columbia allows exams to be written in Chinese, as Chinese has been the main operating language of TCM practice in BC and worldwide.)

On top of that, the first safety exam was only offered on January 26th of this year and while there are two opportunities to sit the exam in March, they have been booked solid for some time and therefore those of us who have not registered cannot even sit the exam before the 1st of April. There is no announcement of when the next opportunity will come up although rumour has it that another exam will be set for May, leaving those of us who could not sit it prior to April 1st out of business for the better part of two months.

On top of this, the Transitional Council itself is sporadic at best in responding to telephone queries (most of us are required to leave messages and our calls are never returned). There is inadequate information on the website to facilitate the process for us or to make clear the timing of the process. We know that if we practice after the 1st of April without a registration number we will be subject to a fine of $25,000 and/or be imprisoned for up to one year, and yet because of the Council’s own disorganization, we could not comply with the law.

It is unconscionable for us to suffer like this when the Transitional Council has had years to set this process up. Why should we, those individuals who will meet the requirements of the law, be penalized so harshly for the failure of our governing body to do its job in a timely manner?

The only remedy for this is a delay in the implementation of the legislation and the regulations in order to give the Transitional Council more time to ensure that we are in compliance with the law before implementation. To do otherwise means not only that we must suspend practice but also that our patients will be untreated.

Abandoning a patient is contrary to our ethical obligations as health care providers. While the Transitional Council has indicated to our lawyer that we should be referring patients to those who practice acupuncture under the governance of one of the other health colleges (chiropractors, nurses, doctors), with due respect to the Council there are significant differences between the nature of the acupuncture provided by most of these practitioners and that which is is provided by a Traditional Chinese Medicine/Acupuncture practitioner. In addition, there is a dramatic difference in hours of study (200 hours versus 2000-5000 hours). Such referrals are likely inappropriate and furthermore, most of our patients chose TCM deliberately and there is no reasonable alternative.

Please, we ask you to do your part to protect our right to work at our profession while complying with the law: Delay the implementation of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Act and the attendant regulations for at least six months – to permit us all to receive our registration numbers before the Act is in force, and to ensure that no practitioners are fined or penalized for continuing to serve their patients.

From Amanda Merenda, B.Sc, R.Ac, C.K

Amanda Merenda is an Acupuncturist & Certified Kinesiologist practising in Maple, Ontario. For more information, visit: www.besthealthacupuncture.com, call 647.299.4631 or e-mail amanda.merenda@gmail.com

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