Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners are mobilizing against a bill proposed by the Ford government which they say would put patients at risk and allow unqualified people to enter the profession.
They are reacting to Bill 88, recently tabled labor legislation that, among other things, would abolish the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario, established in 2013.
“There was no consultation from the government that they were even considering this decision,” said Heather Kenny, president of Traditional Chinese Medicine Ontario, an advocacy group.
“We are doing absolutely everything we can to expose what happened.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine involves techniques like acupuncture, herbal remedies, cupping, proper nutrition, and Chinese massage. According to Kenny, the bill was introduced at a time when these treatments are becoming increasingly popular in Ontario, with nearly 2,800 practitioners each managing a caseload ranging from 100 to 250 people.
If the legislation becomes law, it will revoke all registration and licensing certificates and remove all active practitioner surveys. Critics claim that patients and practitioners would no longer have a primary regulator to submit their complaints to.
The government says it is making the move because the current system excludes future practitioners who only speak Cantonese or Mandarin, and it says other provincial bodies will oversee the profession.
But Kenny says a coalition including thousands of practitioners, acupuncturists, educators and some of the nation’s largest traditional medicine advocacy groups came together to stop the plan. There is now a petition against the proposal which has around 25,000 signatures.
“We know health care in Ontario is already extremely stressed, and here we have this government cutting viable options for health care.”
“We want recognition”
As a practitioner with more than two decades of experience, Mary Xiumei Wu has lobbied for regulation in Ontario and Canada since the mid-1990s and joined the coalition to oppose the bill.
“We are pushing to work with government, opposition, politicians, [and] with our own people, trying to regulate our profession,” Wu said.
“We want recognition,” she told CBC News.
Wu, who is also president and founder of the Toronto School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, says she fielded calls and emails from anxious students. She says the move would render programs offered by at least 15 Ontario schools useless.
She also says that under the proposed legislation, practitioners of Chinese medicine and acupuncture will be on the same level as tattoo artists and ear piercers.
“Our students are badly affected,” Wu said, adding that people who want to study the discipline probably won’t do so now “because their dream is to become a regulated, official healthcare professional.” Without the university, she fears that patients are more likely to injure themselves or see their ailments worsen.
Planning a “direct attack” on the Asian community: Del Duca
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the bill would place Chinese medicine practitioners under the Health Care and Support Providers Oversight Authority, which now regulates health care support workers. nobody. However, registration with the authority would be voluntary. She says acupuncturists will be monitored and regulated by local public health agencies.
“We are confident they will do an effective job and protect the interests of the people of Ontario,” Elliott said at a news conference Thursday.
Premier Doug Ford said the plan to disband the college comes after consulting “many people in this industry” who wanted to overcome language barriers that primarily prevent Cantonese and Mandarin speakers from taking the required exams and get certified.
“They were unlucky. And I don’t think that’s fair,” Ford said.
But the premier also said the province won’t change anything until it consults more with practitioners and other stakeholders.
“Obviously there are concerns and we will make sure to correct them,” he said.
However, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said tabling the bill without proper consultation is unacceptable.
“It’s a disservice to the profession as a whole and removes important protections for the public,” Schreiner said in a press release.
Steven Del Duca, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, has pledged to reverse the decision if his party forms government after the June provincial election.
“This was a direct attack on the Asian community, and particularly the Chinese community, and the Ontario Liberals will reverse it,” he said in a press release.
Kenny says valid concerns about access, culture and language could be resolved within the college, not by dismantling it.
“I don’t understand how deregulation answers these questions while keeping the public comfortable, safe and confident in their health care.”