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Therapeutic Massage Association annual meeting

Hon. Annette King

Therapeutic Massage Association annual meeting

Thank you for inviting me to speak to your annual conference today, and for choosing my electorate of Rongotai as the venue for your conference.

This is certainly the first time I have spoken to your association. I don't know whether a Health Minister has addressed you before, but the very fact that this is my first time at your meeting is probably a good illustration of the way the health sector workforce is continually taking on a new shape and broadening its approach.

It also illustrates the fact the New Zealanders are increasingly looking outside the confines of so-called conventional medicine and seeking new ways to meet their needs for health and wellbeing.

Before I elaborate on that issue, particularly in relation to the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance (or HPCA) Bill, I want to thank the conference organising committee, particularly Emma Curran, for inviting me to join you and for the excellent organisation of this event. I also want to thank the many sponsors of this conference for their strong support.

The trend towards more and more New Zealanders using complementary and alternative medicines mirrors what is happening in the rest of the western world. Across the whole world, it is estimated that around 85 percent of people are now using complementary or alternative medicine.

The trend in New Zealand brings with it new responsibilities. Better education, regulation, research and development, and quality information are needed to ensure people can enjoy the benefits of complementary and alternative treatments, without being exposed to risk.

No current legislation exists to regulate Complementary and Alternative Health Practitioners, with the exception of Chiropractors, who are covered by the Chiropractors Act 1982.

However, a number of other regulations do affect complementary and alternative health practitioners, including the Fair Trading Act, the Health and Disability Commissioner Act, the Code of Health and Disability Consumers' Rights, and the Massage Parlours Act.

I know your organisation has been following the progress of the HPCA Bill with considerable interest. Massage therapists are not included in the Bill, which is about to enter the Committee stages of debate in Parliament, but the Bill offers potential for other professions to be added in the future.

The HPCA Bill is intended to protect the health and safety of the public by establishing processes that ensure regulated health practitioners are competent to practise, and will replace the 11 existing health occupational regulatory statues, including the Chiropractors Act 1982.

As a single piece of legislation containing a framework for the governance and functions of registering authorities, the Bill is intended to ensure consistency between professionals, and to regulate health professionals where practice of the profession may pose a risk of harm to the public.

The proposed Bill will regulate osteopaths for the first time, and, as I said, other health professions can be added in the future by Order in Council, without the need for separate Acts of Parliament.

To do this professions will have to establish that they are providing a health service, defined in clause 5 of the Bill as "a service provided for the purpose of assessing, improving, protecting, or managing the physical or mental health of individuals or groups of individuals".

If they meet this test, the process for inclusion is set out in clauses 111 and 112 of the Bill. They would then have to make an application to the Minister of Health, who must be satisfied that either that the provision of the health services concerned poses a risk of harm to the public, or it is otherwise in the public interest that it be regulated.

The providers of the health services concerned also have to show that they have generally agreed on the qualifications, standards and competencies for scopes of practice within their profession.

Once satisfied that all of these criteria have been met, the Minister can then recommend that the Governor-General designate the profession as a profession under the HPCA.

I now want to talk briefly about the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Complementary and Alternative Health (known as MACCAH) that I established in June two years ago to provide me with advice on key issues regarding complementary and alternative medicines or CAM.

MACCAH's terms of reference are:

· to provide advice on how complementary healthcare can improve outcomes in priority areas in the New Zealand Health Strategy

· to provide advice on the need, or otherwise, to regulate complementary practitioners in order to protect consumers who use complementary healthcare

· to provide advice on consumer information needs and, in particular, advice on the benefits, risks and costs of complementary therapies

· to review overseas evidence-based research, to identify priorities for the development of New Zealand evidence-based research on the safety and efficacy of specific natural therapies, and to support the development of guidelines

· and to advise whether and how specified natural health practitioners should be integrated into the mainstream health system.

MACCAH is consulting on its discussion document, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Current Policies and Policy Issues in New Zealand and Selected Countries, and I urge your association to consider making a submission to the Committee by the deadline of June 20.

There has been some criticism about the time MACCAH is taking to make an impact, but I think the criticism is unfair. It does take time for a new advisory committee to become established, to build relationships with the sector and to settle on an effective and progressive work programme.

A good example is the National Health Committee. If people consider that committee, they will realise it took several years for it to become the credible and far-sighted organisation it has now become.

I look forward to MACCAH following a similar path, and I hope the TMA supports its continuing development.

Finally today, I want to correct misinformation that has been circulating about proposals to regulate therapeutic products under new legislation that would be administered jointly with Australia.

I would like to reassure the TMA that products such as massage oils and aromatherapy products will not be regulated under the joint scheme unless distributors of the products wish to claim that their products provide a therapeutic benefit other than those that flow from the relaxation and stress reduction that accompany a massage.

Massage therapists might also be interested to know that the Ministry of Health is funding the development of an online searchable website on complementary and alternative medicine.

The website, to be launched later this year, will provide evidence-based information on the efficacy and safety of a range of CAM treatments, which may include massage therapy.

New Zealand Health Technology Assessment, a small unit of research specialists at Otago University, will establish the website, which will provide, in simple language for the general public, summaries of reviewed evidence, and will also provide links to reliable overseas evidence-based websites on CAM.

The website will be aimed at a wide audience, including consumers and health practitioners of all disciplines.

As I said at the start, New Zealanders, including mainstream health practitioners, are increasingly interested in looking outside the confines of conventional medicine, provided there is evidence to support alternative treatments.

I wish your organisation well in its efforts to promote education and improved standards of practice, and am sure this conference will help achieve those aims.

The motto of this conference - "giving you back to yourself" - is particularly apt. And I might be biased, but I don't believe there is a more beautiful city than Wellington in which you could be restored to yourself. Thank you again for inviting me to meet you today.

ENDS

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