Challenging misleading healthcare claims

Endemic problems with CNHC registrants

foldersWe have today submitted a batch of 100 complaints against registrants of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) for making questionable claims on their websites.

We have to thank our supporters for their sterling work in gathering the information we needed for these complaints. Some of you (you know who you are!) went above and beyond the call of duty to submit dozens to us. We are grateful for them all. This batch of 100 is just a selection of the hundreds you sent us, but will suffice for now.

Thanks also to those who submitted their own claims directly to the CNHC — they all help emphasise to the CNHC the extent of their problem and the extent of the concerns about them and their registrants.

What your efforts have demonstrated is that there are many websites of CNHC registrants that make claims that do not appear to be in compliance with the appropriate therapy descriptor, CNHC advertising guidance, the ASA's CAP Code, ASA/CAP Guidance and ASA adjudications.

Some, we believe, are even illegal, with claims about cancer and using the protected title 'physician'. Most proudly display the CNHC's 'quality mark'.

Claims

The breadth of these questionable claims is truly staggering, with just about no CNHC 'discipline' left untouched. The Alexander Technique is a notable exception in this batch of complaints — at least there is some good evidence for it for some conditions and we found no evidence of the outrageous claims that were being made for other disciplines.

For example, many hypnotherapy registrants are claiming to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), when the ASA have made it clear (as a result of our complaint about the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine) that references can only be made to hypnotherapy helping the pain or discomfort of IBS, not to being able to help IBS itself.

But the problems go much deeper than this. Far more worrying were claims to be able to treat cancer, possibly in breach of the Cancer Act 1939. For example, this, by a 'Healer':

It is vitally important never to lose sight of the fact that any kind of cancer can be healed in a split second, regardless of how far advanced it is or how many areas of the body are affected... For energetic healing it is unimportant where the cancer has manifested or how many parts of the body have been affected. Once the client is embracing the healing process fully, all cancer vanishes, for it no longer has any reason to exist within the person's physique...

Some amazing results have been achieved during the last few years whilst treating people with cancer. Scans often left oncologists amazed. Gradually I am specialising more and more in cancer treatments. Do realise: there is always hope, light, love and therefore possible healing.

Another Healer:

What it can heal

Your physical health; all kinds of aches and pains such as;

more serious illness such as cancer

A naturopath:

Specialist Areas
Skin Problems, Women's Health, Life-Long Weight Loss, Joint & Muscle Pains, Digestive Disorders/IBS, Hayfever Prevention, Tiredness/Energy Levels, Stress, Anxiety & Mental Health, Cancer Prevention & Support

Even yoga therapists:

Yoga Therapy requires no previous yoga experience and is beneficial for a great variety of conditions including RSI, hypertension, migraine, depression, cancer, diabetes, low back pain, IBS, MS, fribromyalgia , menopause, ME, sports injuries, asthma, and Parkinson’s disease.

Many other registrants' websites were making more subtle claims about cancer and frequently about the symptoms of cancer, but still very possibly misleading.

That last list is not untypical of many websites of many different disciplines. One 'Microsystems Acupuncturist' had an impressive list of 80 medical conditions her clinic could supposedly treat.

Others were making some very curious claims. One hypnotherapist:

For some years now I have used methods pioneered by Spanish surgeon, Dr Angel Escudero - who performs ALL of his operations WITHOUT anaesthetic.  His patients are fully conscious throughout the surgery and feel no pain, and as no chemicals are used their bodies heal faster than patients who undergo traditional surgery. To date he has performed thousands of operations - many of which are major - and has no episodes of post-operative infection.

Another:

Breast Enlargement... (No, don't laugh - this really works!)... The earliest report I could find on the successful use of hypnosis to increase breast size dates from as far back as 1949, when it was used with 20 women aged from 20-35. An amazing 17 out of 20 women showed some increase in size, from about one to one and a half inches (2.5-3.7 centimetres) and 5 showed growth of about 2 inches (5 centimetres)..."Dr. Peter Mutke, who has helped pioneer breast enhancement using hypnosis, reports in his book' Selective Awareness' working with 25 women over 10 once a week sessions backed up by cassette tapes. By the end of the tenth week, 20 of the 25 women had experienced a measurable increase…Imagine the thrill of seeing your new self, hearing the compliments, noticing admiring looks and how wonderful it is to have a much higher sense of self-esteem. Why not enlarge your breasts naturally using hypnosis?..."

But you also found several practitioners using the title 'Dr' or the protected title 'physician', when they are not registered with the General Medical Council. Many of the claims being made may also breach consumer protection regulations.

Next steps

The CNHC now need to process this batch of 100 complaints and no doubt that will take some time. However, they can be left in no doubt that they have a very serious problem on their hands and one they must promptly and decisively deal with.

This isn't just a couple of rogue registrants making claims that are slightly misleading: the problem is widespread and runs deep with some making very worrying claims indeed. The level of misinformation being presented to the public is shocking.

We have no doubt that many CNHC registrants are very aware of their responsibilities and want to comply with all the rules surrounding advertising, abide by the law and do so very happily. They are not the problem.

It's difficult to understand how any CNHC registrant can claim to be unaware of their responsibilities — the therapy descriptors have existed for over a year in some cases, and the ASA's CAP Code has been around for over 50 years. There is no excuse for being ignorant of the law.

But all this is happening on the CNHC's watch. It is up to them to ensure their registrants comply with the rules, taking swift and decisive action as and when necessary and monitoring its registrants to ensure they do not stray.

Fit for purpose?

But why is this so important?

Maybe a member of the public will just waste some money and an afternoon visiting a registrant for some treatment that doesn't do what was claimed. That is bad enough. However, given the claims for many serious medical conditions being made, the results of someone relying on what a registrant advertises or tells them could be far more serious — and, in the extreme, potentially fatal, particularly if they delay or forgo possibly urgently needed medical treatment, from a qualified medical practitioner. 

It is now up to the CHNC — if it is ever wants to be considered a regulator that protects the public rather than its registrants — to take this opportunity to tackle the endemic problems with their registrants head on, ensure that all misleading (and indeed illegal) claims are removed and the registrants dealt with appropriately.

But of course, they must do much more than that if the public is to be protected in the future.

The CNHC control what training is considered appropriate for an aspirant registrant and they must also ensure that future registrants are clearly taught during their training just what they can and cannot treat — and that has to be based on the best scientific evidence available. Anything less is a dereliction of their duty. They promised this nearly four years ago, but even if they have taken take action, our complaints clearly demonstrate that it was wholly inadequate.

Standards? What standards?

The CNHC recently applied to the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) to join their statutory Accredited Voluntary Register (AVR). With these revelations of the widespread and reckless claims being made by CNHC registrants, we suggest the PSA drop their application and have nothing further to do with them until the CNHC are able to fully demonstrate their ability to control their registrants and protect the public.

28 May 2013

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