The Minister of State for Health and Communications and Information, Chee Hong Tat, has turned to social media to voice his concerns over recent reports of sexual services that have been provided in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinics.

“I am concerned with recent reports of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinics being used for unsavoury activities, including massage parlours providing sexual services,” he wrote. “TCM practitioners who allow their clinics to be used in this manner are tarnishing the reputation of the TCM industry, and damaging the standing of other TCM practitioners and institutions.”

“The industry, professional board and government must take a united stand against these negative practices,” he added.

Female masseuses found in “TCM clinics”

Chee was referring to the recent arrest of nine women in an enforcement blitz on TCM centres and unlicensed massage parlours during a three day raid of 15 establishments located in Little India, Bukit Batok, Clementi, MacPherson, Sennett Estate and Upper Paya Lebar.

Three of the women were arrested at an establishment at Upper Paya Lebar, while six others were nabbed in Little India.

"The operations led by police conducted in the last few days are part of ongoing enforcement efforts to ensure massage parlours adhere to the rules and conditions of their licences," said the commanding officer of Toa Payoh Neighbourhood Police Centre, Superintendent Audrey Ong.

While most of the centres advertise themselves as TCM clinics, with signboards outside the premises to promote treatments such as tui na, cupping and acupuncture, some were discovered to have female masseuses instead of licensed TCM practitioners, and were found to be offering sex to customers. Condoms were also found in the massage rooms.

All TCM physicians must be registered with the TCMPB

Such incidents are not new in the country. Just last June, the police arrested 75 individuals in raids on such establishments.

Local news also reported similar incidents of TCM clinics offering sexual services last December, with at least five such establishments located in Chinatown, Tajong Pagar, Jalan Besar and North Bridge Road. These clinics were also found to be registered to the same licensed TCM practitioner, who has over 30 establishments with the word “TCM” listed as part of their Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) registered names.

According to Benjie Ng, the executive director of Sian Chay Medical Institution – the largest network of non-profit TCM clinics in the country – said that authorities can look into possible gaps in current regulations to curb such events.

"For general practitioners, there is licensing of both the doctor and the premises they operate from. But it seems only the TCM practitioners are approved by the TCM board and not the premises they are in," he said.

Although TCM physicians must be registered with the Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board (TCMPB), a statutory board under the Ministry of Health (MOH), TCM clinics are not required to be registered with the health ministry.

According to TCMPB’s executive secretary Quah Ai Mui, registered practitioners are mandated to display their original registration certificate at the main premise of their practice, and a certified true-copy of the certificate at other places of practice.

Quah added that it is an offence for an individual who is unregistered to practise, advertise or carry out any prescribed TCM practice.

"It is also an offence to employ someone who is not qualified or registered to practise any prescribed practice of TCM."

Should an offender be convicted for practising TCM or advertising himself as a qualified practitioner without proper qualifications or registrations, he can be fined up to SGD25,000 and sentenced to jail for six months. MIMS

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