Challenging misleading healthcare claims

We need your help!

The new Government register could be a way for unproven and disproven therapies to gain undeserved recognition. Help us make sure it's not abused.

not_accredited

Last time, we mentioned the consultation by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE) on their Accredited Register scheme that will be launched in November. This scheme will:

…set standards for organisations that hold voluntary registers for people working in health and social care occupations and we will accredit the register if they meet those standards. It will then be known as an 'Accredited Register'.

The list of organisations that have expressed an interest is growing and comprises many well-respected medical professions such as Cardiothoracic Surgical Assistants, Genetic Nurses and Counsellors and Anaesthesia Assistants.

Yet there are others, including homeopaths, acupuncturists, osteomyologists, anthroposophists, naturopaths, reiki-ists and even crystal healers. On top of that, there are several organisations that register alternative therapists of all flavours, including reflexologists, aromatherapists, bowen therapists, ear candlers, kinesiologists, stone therapists — just about the whole gamut of alternative therapists.

And, of course, the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).

We don't know what the CHRE's attitude to alternative therapy organisations is, but we can easily see how alternative therapists, if they were to become CHRE accredited and entitled to display the Accredited Register's 'quality mark', could easily trumpet the accreditation and the mark as a symbol of legitimacy.

This does not enhance the protection of the public because it will simply confound informed consumer choice.

When is endorsement not endorsement?

The CHRE say that all they are doing is ensuring those organisations are committed to good practice in the way they operate. But even the best run register of practitioners of an unproven alternative therapy still leaves its members practising that unproven therapy on an unsuspecting public.

Also, since the idea is to have the registers online on the CHRE's website, they aim to make it easier for consumers to find practitioners.

However, they are at pains to point out that:

It will not be an endorsement of the therapeutic validity or effectiveness of any particular discipline or treatment.

But there is nothing in the draft standards that obliges organisations or their members to make this absolutely clear to their prospective customers.

Is it possible to endorse a register of practitioners of unproven therapies without being seen to endorse that unproven therapy?

We don't think so. And that is why this proposal is so dangerous.

Even if it is made clear, we believe it will not serve to protect the public. On the contrary, we believe being accredited by the CHRE — a statutory Government body — will simply and inevitably mislead the public.

Maintaining standards

Some of the proposed eligibility criteria and standards are interesting. To be eligible, an organisation must be able to:

…demonstrate that there either is a sound knowledge base underpinning the profession or it is developing one and makes that explicit to the public. (A.7)

There are some obvious problems with this. The first is that it talks about a 'knowledge base' but not an 'evidence base'. Homeopaths (or whoever) may well believe there to be a 'sound knowledge base' for their therapy, but it is really a scientifically unsound knowledge base. The danger here is that we don't know how the CHRE might want to interpret this criterion; we don't know if they will be disposed to allowing homeopathy to pass this test, so we have to make sure that this criterion is made far more robust.

But if a profession is just developing this sound knowledge base (and no doubt some alternative therapists might claim that), the question has to be asked how consumers can possibly be protected when subjected to a treatment by practitioners who haven't even yet got that 'sound knowledge base'?

One of the standards an organisation has to meet is:

C.2 The organisation promotes ethical practice

When it comes to unproven or disproven alternative therapies such as homeopathy, reiki and crystal healing, it cannot be ethical to subject a customer to these 'treatments', telling them it will align their chakras, balance your Qi, remove negative energy, that it's an 'energy' medicine that works holistically with your body's innate healing or that it works because of 'laws' invented 200 years ago, but which are entirely contrary to everything else we know about physics, chemistry and biology. Will they tell them there is no good evidence that it will help them?

Within the confines of the homeopathic, reiki or other make-believe 'paradigm', we have to worry that the CHRE might be tempted to accept that these are just different 'modalities'; different ways of looking at the body and different ways of healing, when they are all just pseudo scientific nonsense.

If the CHRE is to genuinely protect the consumer — and seen to be doing so — all such post-modern nonsense must be given short shrift and we need to ensure the CHRE have robust standards in place to rule out the possibility of alternative therapies ever being given the credibility that being CHRE-accredited will confer on them.

Another standard:

G.1 The organisation provides clear, helpful, easy to access information. It ensures that information provided by the organisation and by its registrants helps consumers to make informed choices and exercise informed consent.

An alternative therapy trade body may well provide clear, helpful and easy to access information, but is it credible to believe they will give their customers the information necessary for them to make truly informed decisions? Will they tell them it's not been independently tested and that there is no good reason to believe it can help/treat/cure/alleviate their condition?

Aims

One thing that must be remembered is that the CHRE aims:

…to promote the health, safety and well-being of patients and other members of the public and to be a strong, independent voice for patients in the regulation of health professionals throughout the UK.

They can't do this if they allow alternative therapies to hitch a ride and gain undeserved credibility; they need to protect patients and be seen to protect patients.

 

We've picked out just a few of the problems with the proposed standards, but there are many more that, depending on how they are interpreted, could allow many pseudo scientific, unproven or disproven therapies to be unleashed onto an unsuspecting public with the false imprimatur of Government accreditation.

What we need our supporters to do

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We need you to make your voice heard and make the CHRE aware of your concerns about allowing alternative therapists into the Accredited Register scheme.

We would urge you to submit a full response to the CHRE, replying to all the criteria and standards you think need to be strengthened.

Alternatively, complete the survey the CHRE have helpfully provided that has the eight questions the consultation is seeking responses on or submit the questionnaire included in the consultation document and send it to them by email or post.

But if you don't have time for that, please just drop the CHRE This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., saying that you think alternative therapists should not be allowed onto the Accredited Register, ideally giving brief reasons why.

If you do submit a response, please let us know, but remember the deadline for submissions to the CHRE is Tuesday 10 July 2012.

Your help is greatly appreciated!

14 June 2012

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