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The UK Chiropractors Act, 1994 -Story of a legislative campaign

A guest blog by :

Ian Hutchinson D.C., F.B.C.A, F.C.C, former President of The British Chiropractic Association (BCA)

Ian graduated from Palmer College in 1970 meeting chiropractors from many countries where chiropractors had achieved legislative recognition. He was inspired to work with many others from inside and outside chiropractic to achieve licensing (statutory regulation) in the U.K.

In 1982, whilst President of the BCA, Ian and David Chapman-Smith spoke to twenty six Members of Parliament regarding chiropractic legislation. A Parliamentary Committee of the BCA was formed with Ian as chair.

In 1983 and 1984, Ian attended two dinner parties hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales which gave rise to eight colloquia (discussions) on complementary medicine under the chairmanship of Sir James Watt. Three of these were attended by the Prince of Wales.

At the seventh colloquia the Health Minister spoke about “across the board” legislation to register (license) the main complementary medical professions.

Efforts were made to promote this. Ian spoke with former Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home in the Houses of Parliament. These attempts did not progress far as “the train could only move at the pace of the slowest coach”.

Whilst President, Michael Copland-Griffiths became Chair of the Parliamentary Committee and much work was done targeting MPs (Members of Parliament) and holding a “Day of Action” demanding chiropractic legislation.

In 1990 Ian took over as Chair of the Parliamentary Committee again and met with Peter Ediss from the Department of Health. He told Ian that the osteopaths were making progress toward statutory regulation (licensing) and that for chiropractors three things needed to happen:

- all groups of chiropractors had to support statutory regulation.

- licensing should have the support of the medical profession.

- a very reputable body would need to produce a report recommending it.

Peter Ediss also explained that the government would not legislate but legislation would have to be via a Private Member’s (non-government) Bill, a notoriously difficult approach as if there were any opposition a Bill would fail.

The support of the medical profession was potentially the most difficult task. Ian was advised to write to the British Medical Association (BMA) and received rather a negative reply.

Sir James Watt advised Ian to forget the BMA for the time being and concentrate on the other main medical bodies. Also, Ian decided to avoid “formal” approaches and engage in more informal contact and was very grateful for the help of Lord Kindersley, who held a private dinner party at the Royal Society of Medicine which key members of the medical profession attended.

Brian Kliger, Principal, spoke on the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic, Dr. Tom Meade on the Medical Research Council (Meade) study and Ian spoke on the need for licensing. Fortunately the discussion went well and those present supported licensing. During discussions Ian avoided argument about chiropractic, but stressed the need for protection of the public through licensing to ensure only qualified chiropractors were able to use the title and practise. This was difficult for the medical profession to oppose as they have the same system of statutory regulation.

The dinner party was followed by other meetings. Notably Alan Breen and Ian met with Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick of the Royal College of Physicians, who was unable to attend the dinner, who gave her support.

Surprisingly the support of all groups of chiropractors and chiropractic students was more difficult both to obtain and to sustain throughout.

On the advice of the Department of Health a Chiropractic Registration Group, with Ian as Chair, had been formed. All the chiropractic associations were represented on this, so that a joint approach to licensing was maintained throughout. We benefited tremendously from the advice and help of observer members – Peter Ediss from the Department of Health (later Andy Smith) and Sir John Bailey.

Eventually the Kings Fund, a major health body, agreed to a “Kings Fund Working Party on Chiropractic” under the chairmanship of Sir Thomas, later Lord Bingham, who went on to become Lord Chief Justice.

The Working Party Report was finally launched on the 5th May 1993, in the presence of HRH the Princess of Wales. Her presence ensured widespread publicity in six national newspapers, TV news and radio. Favourable comments came from the main medical bodies who were consulted throughout.

Eventually, after much lobbying from many chiropractors and other supporters, Ian met with David Lidington on the 2nd December 1993 and David agreed to introduce a Chiropractors Bill as a Private Member's Bill. Ian had become BCA President again and Ian’s first message to Association Members was entitled “We have a Bill!”

The Bill was drafted by government draftsmen and tremendous help was received from Andy Smith and Kenny Allen from the Department of Health,

The whole process had been facilitated by the work of Simon Fielding, with whom Ian worked closely, which had led to an Osteopaths Act in the previous parliamentary session.

The Bill passed through its various parliamentary stages, expertly steered through the House of Lords by Lord Walton, former Chairman of the British Medical Association. It was supported by many MPs and peers, thanks to the efforts of many chiropractors.

The Bill received Royal Assent becoming the Chiropractors Act on the 5th July 1994 – the longest Private Members Bill ever to go through parliament- and Ian breathed a tremendous sigh of relief!