Newmarket Chinese medicine practitioners seek recognition after province threatens deregulation

Government backtracked on plans to end traditional Chinese medicine university after protests

Kelly Linstead, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and registered acupuncturist in Newmarket, said she had worked for years to gain recognition for the practice after helping to heal her own health issues.

In the industry since 2005, she has participated in delegations to ensure that traditional Chinese medicine is regulated and recognized. Practitioners have achieved this, with the province establishing a college in 2013.

She therefore said she was “shocked” and “disappointed” when the province announced its intention to deregulate traditional Chinese medicine on February 28, before reversing the decision on March 7 after protests.

“It shows us as a profession that we need to stick together, even more. Work even harder with our college to give voice to traditional Chinese medicine and continue to educate the public,” she said. “Put money into research as well, to show the effects – the proven effects – of this age-old profession.”

The provision originally appeared in the province’s new labor law, the Working for Workers Act, which aims to “reduce barriers to the provision of traditional Chinese medicine while ensuring consumer protection.”

But the move sparked industry protests and criticism from opposition parties. On Monday, the government had backtracked, promising instead that the college would offer mandatory testing in Mandarin and Cantonese and remove the language barrier.

Linstead said she understood the concern and said it was important doctors in the East had access to the profession. But she said the college tries to accommodate those who are not fluent in English or French, with those members having a written language plan to ensure a translator is on hand. She said communicating patient information was essential.

“Until it was regulated, we heard all the time that people were opening stores and had nothing in traditional Chinese medicine. It really affected public confidence,” she said. “The public had no way of knowing what their upbringing was… It’s really important that we protect all of medicine.”

Newmarket registered acupuncturist Marisa Schembri said she entered the field after acupuncture helped a seriously injured family member. She agreed with the importance of keeping it regulated.

“Putting a needle in the dermis is a legal act, and it needs to be regulated, otherwise it can be disastrous for people if someone doesn’t know how to do it,” she said. “We go to school. We spend years learning the trade.

“I was very grateful that they decided to back down,” she added. “It’s also kind of a testament to how hard quorum members worked to save their college.”

But even though the college will remain, Linstead said there is still work to be done to push for greater recognition in the province. She said the college does not offer a doctorate like some other jurisdictions, including British Columbia.

She also said she has had issues with insurance companies not covering traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture compared to acupuncture performed by other practitioners.

“There is so much traditional Chinese medicine that can help Ontarians,” she says. “It’s important to progress with our college and the regulation of Chinese medicine. Standards should become stricter rather than lower.