The government is to sidestep an EU directive designed to protect consumers from unlicensed herbal and Chinese medicines.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said consumers will be able to get continued access to the medicines under plans to register all practitioners in the UK who supply them.
The European directive, due to take full effect in April, makes it illegal for practitioners to supply unlicensed herbal medicines to their patients.
But in a written ministerial statement, Mr Lansley said: “This government wishes to ensure that the public can continue to have access to these products.”
Under the plans, the Health Professions Council will establish a register of practitioners.
Those supplying unlicensed herbal medicines will therefore be required by law to register with the HPC.
This will be “underpinned” by a strengthened system for regulating medicinal products, the statement added.
“This approach will give practitioners and consumers continuing access to herbal medicines.
“It will do this by allowing us to use a derogation in the European legislation to set up a UK scheme to permit and regulate the supply, via practitioners, of unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines to meet individual patient needs.”
All UK health departments will consult on the draft legislation, and the aim is to have it in place in 2012.
Acupuncture falls outside the EU directive and so remains unaffected.
The EU directive demands that a traditional herbal medicinal product must be shown to have been in use for 30 years in the EU (or at least 15 years in the EU and 15 years elsewhere) for it to be licensed and obtainable over the counter.