TCM practitioners must continue learning to maintain licence, MOH proposes

The number of TCM practitioners in Singapore has grown by a third in the past decade, and some practices are being used in public hospitals.
The number of TCM practitioners in Singapore has grown by a third in the past decade, and some practices are being used in public hospitals.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The 3,200 traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners here will need to keep upgrading their knowledge throughout their careers - just as mainstream doctors are required to do - if the laws are amended to make it mandatory.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) would like to make continuing professional education (CPE) compulsory for the sector as part of several changes to "further strengthen the existing provisions and ensure greater alignment" with what is being done with other healthcare professionals, such as pharmacists and dentists.

It also wants, for instance, to raise the maximum fine the TCM Practitioners Board can impose on errant practitioners from the current $10,000 to $50,000.

Practitioners and the public have until May 3 to send in their feedback on the proposed changes .

The ministry said on Wednesday (April 4) that since the TCM Practitioners Act was set up in 2000, the Board has "progressively put in place programmes and frameworks to raise the professional standards" here. However, it was timely now to review the Act so it remains relevant to the practice.

The number of TCM practitioners has grown by a third in the past decade, and practices like acupuncture are used in public hospitals.

The MOH has proposed three changes:

- First, enhance the disciplinary framework and strengthen the TCM Practitioners Board's powers of investigation. Aside from the investigations committees which the board now has, the Act will be amended to provide for a Complaints Review Committee.

The Act will also specify the maximum time the two committees will be allowed to finish their investigations. Based on other healthcare Acts, these committees should complete their work within three months, but can ask for an extension if the case is complex.

In addition, the maximum fine the TCM Practitioners Board can impose will be raised from $10,000 to $50,000 for those found guilty of professional misconduct.

The professional governing bodies for dental, pharmaceutical and allied healthcare professionals are able to levy fines of $50,000, so the change brings the TCM sector in line with them.

Currently, the TCM Practitioners Board can suspend or cancel the registration of errant practitioners. Last year, it suspended two practitioners for three months and six months, respectively. This power will not change.

- Second, to allow the board to look into whether a practitioner is fit to practise. If not, he could be temporarily suspended for up to 18 months "if it is necessary for the protection of members of the public" or in the practitioner's own interest.

- Lastly, to make CPE compulsory. While the scheme is available now, not everyone takes it up. Once amended, practitioners will have to acquire 50 points over a two-year period. For example, one hour as a speaker or instructor would give the practitioner two CPE points.

Mr William Peh, a TCM practitioner of six years, is all for CPE. He has been fulfilling the current recommendation of 25 CPE points per year. "I'm a full-time physician and I want to upgrade myself," he said.

Getting 50 points over two years will not be a problem, he said, as there are many courses available. Mr Peh added that the board also accepts self-declaration of attendance at overseas conferences.

Miss Caryn Peh, managing director of Group Clinic Services at Eu Yan Sang International, which runs more than 20 TCM clinics here, said: "Elevating standards is the way to move forward the industry and ensure it remains relevant.

"It is timely as expectations by patients are rising because they are now more aware, educated, and receptive of TCM treatments and products."