The integration of non-conventional therapies (NCT) into health policies and health services delivery is a worldwide trend and might have a role in achieving Universal Health Coverage. WHO has encouraged countries to integrate NCT into health service delivery and to increase the interest and utilization by consumers. Following two resolutions by the European Parliament and by the Council of Europe, in the late 1990s, recommending the recognition of NCT and calling for EU legislation on non-conventional forms of medicine, Portugal initiated, in 2003, its path towards regulation of NCT. We analyze this process and discuss its implications and impacts in terms of health policies, health services delivery and overall health workforce.
The need to regulate NCT in Portugal stemmed from a growing demand for NCT (and acceptability) among lay citizens and a positive attitude among conventional health professionals which also advocated for a regulatory framework. Political efforts undertaken since 2003 allowed for important advances in the regulation of NCT, beneficiating safe professional practices, and ensuring future academic training at the highest standards, with the defining moment of the social and legal model transition occurring in 2013, when acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy, phytotherapy and traditional Chinese Medicine were recognized and regulated. Nevertheless, and because the process knew important time gaps, significant deficiencies arose, mainly between regulation of the training and of the professional activities and the capacity to ensure the continuous production of NCT professionals at an acceptable rate and with minimum quality standards guaranteed.
The regulation of NCT in Portugal was lengthy but steady and was able to bring consumers a safer practice environment and NCT professionals a legal and deontological umbrella for their training, practice, and professional development.
Nevertheless, and despite the growing acceptability and normative quality assurance of NCT and its workforce, the regulation process has highlighted some fragilities in terms of accessibility and availability that need attention and urgent action to achieve universal coverage.
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