The Ontario government is backing down on a controversial plan to deregulate acupuncture and other forms of traditional Chinese medicine, saying it will opt for Chinese-language exams instead.
Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office announced the change Monday as several dozen opponents of the deregulation protested in front of the legislature over concerns deregulation and a lack of oversight would jeopardize patient safety.
Tests will soon be offered in Mandarin and Cantonese to avoid excluding non-English speakers, which Premier Doug Ford’s government said was “unfair.”
“The Ministry of Health is working with the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario to immediately begin taking steps to offer a Chinese language entry-to-practise exam for registration with the college,” Elliott’s press secretary Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.
It was issued as Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca — who raised alarm bells about the deregulation last week — was holding a news conference on the issue. He later went out to the protest and was cheered over the government’s reversal.
Del Duca applauded the climbdown and accused the government of not “measuring twice” before announcing the change in the recently tabled Bill 88, also known as the Working for Workers Act.
It would repeal the Chinese Medicine Act passed by the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty in 2006 and put practitioners under the oversight of the Health and Supportive Care Providers Authority of Ontario.
“The Liberals put in place a broken system that prevented people who primarily speak Cantonese or Mandarin from practising traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture in Ontario,” Hilkene added in Monday’s statement.
“This puts new Canadians at a disadvantage and our government is going to fix that.
The College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners has about 70 ongoing investigations into members. Deregulation would have put an end to them, along with eight pending disciplinary hearings.
To date, the college has issued 38 discipline decisions. Sanctions have ranged from matters including sexual assault to providing patients false hope about treatments. Licences have been suspended in some cases and remedial training ordered in others.
New Democrat MPP and health critic France Gelinas said the plan to deregulate traditional Chinese medicine was “reckless.”
There were also concerns that deregulation would prompt insurance companies to stop providing coverage for some types of traditional Chinese medicine.
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