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Meet Our Members: Christine Pope, Australian Traditional Medicine Society

Christine talks to us about her association, lockdowns, and natural therapies' place in private health funds.




We're excited to be bringing a new content series, Meet our Members, to the website. We'll sit down and have a chat with the industry association leaders that make up COSBOA's membership to find out what their associations do for small businesses, advocacy topics they're passionate about, how their sectors have been impacted by COVID-19, and more.


Our first interviewee is Christine Pope, Treasurer and Chair of Marketing at the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. Christine has also been on COSBOA's Board of Directors since 2019 and our Treasurer since 2020.


What does your association do for small businesses?

We represent a broad range of natural medicine practitioners and provide a range of services. These include providing members to access to affordable continuing professional education, health fund accreditation, and professional indemnity insurance. We also provide members with national campaigns to highlight the value of natural medicine and how it can help people. This includes Natural Medicine Week which is run nationally in late May each year where we list over 100 events and share a wide range of content including blogs, recipes,and videos.


In 2020 we took this campaign digital due to COVID and surprisingly we found it worked really well. The numbers registering for webinars were significantly higher than for previous years, and we also saw engagement nationally, which really improved access for a lot of people.


How did you get involved with the Australian Traditional Medicine Society?

After graduating I was asked to assist with a small homeopathic association and then I was recruited as a casual Director by ATMS because of my background in finance. It's given me a great opportunity to advocate for the industry but also to develop a broader range of skills. Currently I am Chair of the Marketing and CPE committee, as well as Treasurer. As Chair of the Marketing Committee I get to work with a fabulous team at Zadro who support our efforts across digital marketing and PR. We have really grown our own content channels with a big reach on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

What is a small business advocacy topic you are passionate about and why is it important for your sector?

Don't get me started on the NTREAP review! We were expecting a decision on the return of natural therapies to their rightful place in health funds from the 2019/20 review. Recently we have been told that the decision for the first part of the review is expected early 2022. This is really concerning as these timelines mean that effectively health funds can't reintroduce benefits for these services until April 2023.


ATMS and other associations have provided extensive data on the research available to support the use of the therapies in the first stage of the review. It's all on the Department of Health website and really it's just astounding that they can't make a decision to allow private health funds to cover these therapies quickly. Natural medicine is an industry dominated by women and it has really had a tough time through these lockdowns. Allowing private health funds to provide rebates on these services would not involve additional costs for the Government and would provide a real boost for the sector.


How has the natural medicine sector been impacted by COVID-19?

There have been different impacts across the states. Clearly Victoria is badly impacted due to the number of lockdowns, but also because in Victoria our members were not permitted to work (except for a very small percentage deemed allied health). For example, in other jurisdictions, remedial massage was able to operate in a COVID safe manner. Victorian members experienced far more significant financial impacts, although a small percentage of members, largely naturopaths and herbalists, were able to transition to doing consultations online.


The continuing rounds of lockdowns followed by new restrictions have added costs to practice as well as reducing income. For example a remedial massage therapist clinic has added 15 minutes between each appointment for cleaning and check in. This reduces the number of people they can see in a day by about 20%.

Finally, what do you love most about your sector?

How passionate people are about supporting health and well-being and trying to find the best outcomes for people. The way people will invest days in upgrading their skills every year to try and help as many people as possible.


Learn more about the Australian Traditional Medicine Society here.