Background: Despite substantial growth in the use of complementary medicine, no comprehensive national study has been undertaken of the naturopathic and Western herbal medicine component of the healthcare workforce in Australia. This study aimed to examine the nature of these practices and this currently unregulated workforce in Australia. Methods: A comprehensive survey questionnaire was developed in consultation with the profession and distributed nationally to all members of the naturopathic and Western herbal medicine workforce. Results: The practices of herbal medicine and naturopathy make up a sizeable component of the Australian healthcare sector, with approximately 1.9 million consultations annually and an estimated turnover of $AUD 85 million in consultations (excluding the cost of medicines). A large proportion of patients are referred to practitioners by word of mouth. Up to one third of practitioners work in multidisciplinary clinics with other registered sectors of the healthcare community. The number of adverse events associated with herbal medicines, nutritional substances and homoeopathic medicines recorded in Australia is substantial and the types of events reported are not trivial. Data suggest that practitioners will experience one adverse event every 11 months of full-time practice, with 2.3 adverse events for every 1000 consultations (excluding mild gastrointestinal effects). Conclusion: These data confirm the considerable degree of utilisation of naturopathic and Western herbal medicine practitioners by the Australian public. However, there is a need to examine whether statutory regulation of practitioners of naturopathy and Western herbal medicine is required to better protect the public
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