With the establishment of the Traditional and Complementary Medicine Council by this year-end, authorities seek to integrate Malaysia's traditional medicine industry into the national healthcare system, which has sought for increased regulation of TCM practitioners.

As such, the Health Ministry has instructed all Traditional and Complementary Medicine (TCM) practitioners in the country to seek registration and obtain a practising certificate, according to the director of the Health Ministry's TCM division, Dr. Goh Cheng Soon.

Those who fail to register with the council that is provided for under the TCM Act 2016, would face a fine up to RM30,000 or imprisonment of two years, or both. Subsequent offenders would be fined up to RM50,000 or a jail term of up to three years, or both.

The TCM Act 2016 was proposed on 10 March and enforced on 1 August. The council will be chaired by the Director-General of Health Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and comprise representatives from the Health Ministry, designated TCM practitioner bodies or associations in Malaysia and local universities with expertise in TCM fields.

The Ministry has not decided on whether a grace period would be allowed for TCM practitioners to register with the TCM council, Goh said.

Amidst growing popularity, registration of TCM practitioners an immediate concern

Previously, local TCM practitioners were allowed to choose to register with the Health Ministry, with approximately 13,000 professional and non-professional practitioners having registered so far, she added. However, it was compulsory for foreign practitioners to register with the Health Ministry.

According to the Health Ministry's National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 findings, at least 29% of Malaysians have visited a TCM practitioner at one point in their lives. This is worrying as although official figures on the exact number of TCM practitioners in Malaysia are not available, the number of practitioners could be "substantial", with many of them not possessing proper qualifications and credentials.

Therefore, Goh said the government found it an immediate concern and set up the TCM council due to the rapid development of the TCM industry and the complementary role it can play alongside allopathic or mainstream medicine. The council also aims to enhance the quality of TCM services in both private entities and government hospitals.

“We’re making it mandatory for TCM practitioners to register with the (TCM) council, mainly to ensure the safety and quality of the services that they are offering to the public,” she said.

The TCM Act 2016 and the TCM Council

A list of criteria has been drafted out, which include having qualifications as specified by the TCM council. Only those who meet all the requirements would then be issued a practicising certificate, added Goh.

The TCM act interprets TCM practices as “a form of health-related practice designed to prevent, treat or manage ailment or illness, or preserve the mental and physical well-being of an individual, and includes such practices as traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian medicine, Islamic medical practice, homeopathy and complementary therapies”.

The act also states that any person intending to practice TCM must apply to the council to be registered as a practitioner and would have to undergo specialised training or a one-year residency with any institution recognised by the TCM council.

The council is however empowered to exempt TCM practitioners with substantial experience, knowledge and skill in any recognised practice area from the one-year residency. A code of professional conduct and rules that are undergoing development by the TCM council must also be adhered to, which will also prescribe mandatory practice standards and practice codes, as well as respective penalties.

Like the medical council, the TCM council will be allowed to exercise disciplinary jurisdiction over any registered practitioner who has failed to comply with the mandatory practice standards and practice codes or committed serious professional misconduct. This disciplinary mechanism also allows the council to deal with public complaints against registered practitioners accordingly.

Challenges in integrating TCM into national healthcare system

According to Goh, the ministry has been facing various challenges in its efforts to integrate TCM into the healthcare system and regulate the industry. One of the main issues included standardising TCM practices as the required qualifications for each field of practice could vary.

“Not all TCM practitioners in this country are trained (or qualified)… once the TCM Act is properly enforced, it will help to inject more professionalism into the industry,” she said.

Additionally, as TCM at the moment is largely based on anecdotal claims rather than evidence-based, the Ministry aims to include using modern medical methodologies to carry out proper studies to prove the effectiveness of the treatments and services, to convince modern medical practitioners to refer their patients to TCM practitioners.

With that in mind, it has gradually brought TCM into the public healthcare sector beginning in 2007, with Hospital Kepala Batas in Penang as the first hospital in the country to have a TCM unit. In 2012, TCM services were extended to primary healthcare centres, beginning with Klinik Kesihatan Masai in Johor and Klinik Kesihatan Meranti in Kelantan. As of December 2015, 14 TCM units were set up in hospitals across the country. MIMS


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