The random thoughts of a sceptical activist

OfQuack: not fit for purpose

Fellow scourge of chiropractors, Simon Perry, has just blogged about the admission by the CNHC — the quack’s regulator — that they are refusing to, well, regulate: OfQuack launches six-month bullshit amnesty: the regulator that doesn’t regulate.

This, and some news today that the Government is minded to let OfQuack regulate even more quacks, prompted me to write to my MP, Barry Gardiner:

Barry

I am disgusted that the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) have recently stated that they will not pursue complaints about misleading claims made by their registered reflexologists for the next six months.

In case you are not aware, the CNHC is a voluntary regulator set up at the behest of Prince Charles’ Foundation for Integrated Health with £900,000 of taxpayers’ money from the Department of Health.

The CNHC style themselves as a ‘professional healthcare regulator’ whose aim is to protect the public, but they are behaving like nothing of the sort. By refusing to deal with complaints, they are certainly not protecting the public.

One individual, Simon Perry, has previously made complaints against some reflexologists and those complaints were processed by the CNHC.

All the complaints were upheld:

The [Investigating Committee Panel] found that the registrants had made claims about the therapy offered which appeared to imply more efficacy than evidence necessarily provides.

Despite this:

The ICP found that the registrants’ Fitness to Practise was not impaired, because they did not deliberately seek to mislead their clients or to exaggerate the benefits of the therapy which they described in good faith.

It is not known how or why they came to this decision.

However, there is some doubt about the openness and transparency of that process since it appears that the decisions were made incompetently.

The CNHC own procedures state that:

The primary task of the Investigating Committee is to consider, on the basis of the information before them, whether there is a “case to answer”.

This is in line with other regulatory bodies and the actual decision about whether a complaint is valid should be made by the Conduct and Competence Panel:

If the Investigating Committee take the view that there is a “case to answer”, then the matter will be referred to…a Conduct and Competence Panel

By the CNHC’s own admission, it was their ICP who made the decision about the guilt of the complainees, not the CCP. They failed to follow their own procedure and seem to be arbitrarily changing the rules.

It is not known what was said to the reflexologists, but I can only assume they were told to remove claims they could not substantiate.

Full details of Simon’s initial complaints can be found here.

This was all back in November last year and Simon Perry recently decided to check if the reflexologists he had complained about had indeed removed the claims the CNHC had ruled they were not entitled to make.

He found that many were still making the same or very similar claims on their websites, despite the complaint being upheld and the fourth months that had elapsed since then.

However, when Simon contacted the CNHC, he was told that they:

…would not be able to action any complaints of a similar nature to those you have already submitted for six months from the date of this letter.

If the CNHC were a statutory regulator, they would undoubtedly be breaking the law in refusing to process valid complaints. However, the CNHC is simply a voluntary body but one that is clearly ignoring their own rules.

Full details of all this can be found here.

It is even more disappointing that Andy Burnham announced today that he is minded to allow the CNHC to regulate acupuncturists and herbal medicine practitioners. For example, see the report in today’s Times: Andy Burnham plans to regulate Chinese medicine and herbal remedies.

It is clear by its own actions that the CNHC is not fit for purpose, whether ‘regulating’ its current registrants and that they cannot be considered competent to regulate the new ones Andy Burnham is proposing.

What is also clear is that such regulation is utterly failing in its aim of protecting the public — they cannot be protected if they refuse to process legitimate complaints.

But the situation is far worse. Like the General Chiropractic Council, the CNHC do not judge the efficacy or safety of any of the treatments offered by its registrants. By not doing so, the public can never be protected from misleading claims made by its registrants.

I assume that Andy Burnham’s announcement was in response to his deliberations on the Pittilo report. I submitted my comments to the DH last November in response to this consultation and this can be read here, although I’m not aware that the DH has yet formally.

In summary, the CNHC have proven themselves to be incompetent in regulating reflexologists and therefore cannot be trusted to regulate the far more dangerous Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Yet it is clear that any form of regulation — statutory or just Government-backed — is heralded by alternative medicine practitioners as a badge of legitimacy that is not deserved, further misleading the general public.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this and would be grateful if you could make representations to Andy Burnham and ask him to not allow the CNHC to regulate these new practitioners. He also needs to fully take into account the views of those like Professor David Colquhoun (see here and here) and re-examine the role and funding of the CNHC.

If you require any further information or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I look forward to receiving your reply.

Thanks and best regards.

I will let you know their responses.

Update

I received a reply from Barry Gardiner on 6 April:

What will happen to your case now the election is called

I am writing to advise you what will happen with regard to your email now a general election is called.

From the moment the Prime Minister calls the General Election, I technically cease to be your MP, and revert to being a candidate in the election. Hence I am not legally allowed to carry on dealing with casework of any type as your Member of Parliament. I am locked out of my office, forbidden to use our parliamentary computers and forbidden access to any of our files in Westminster. During this time if you call to leave messages on my parliamentary number or send correspondence to me at the House of Commons I will not receive it unless and until I am re-elected as your Member of Parliament.

I’ll be contacting the new incumbent.

What will happen to your case now the election is called

I am writing to advise you what will happen with regard to your email now a general election is called.

From the moment the Prime Minister calls the General Election, I technically cease to be your MP, and revert to being a candidate in the election. Hence I am not legally allowed to carry on dealing with casework of any type as your Member of Parliament. I am locked out of my office, forbidden to use our parliamentary computers and forbidden access to any of our files in Westminster.  During this time if you call to leave messages on my parliamentary number or send correspondence to me at the House of Commons I will not receive it unless and until I am re-elected as your Member of Parliament.

9 Responses to OfQuack: not fit for purpose

  • I intend to take a slightly different tack and write to the Dept of Health, who are the CNHC’s parent department.

  • This is indeed an excellent letter. As I said on Simon perry’s blog I am keen to take this up as soon as I can. Post-election since dissolution kills all parl questions.

  • Evan Harris, MP:
    If you ever get tired of political ‘life’ in the UK, might you consider emigrating to Australia, as an MP?
    (It is generally quite balmy here, you know).

    We desperately need more of your type here.
    Or even just ONE of your forcefully rational type here!

  • Hands off!

    There is far too much for him to do here!

    But maybe we could allow him an occasional holiday in your neck of the woods? Would that do as a compromise? :-)

  • I look forward to seeing the media reports of Evan Harris having discussions with Australian poiticians about controlling the explosion of quackery. I hope to see the reports in my local paper.

    I was shocked last year to hear a radio ad for a course in “kinesiology” presumably the quackery “applied kinesiology” as state government subsidised under a “skills training program” but I didn’t get enough details to act on it (I was driving at the time)

  • Not that this is at all related to the post, but I thought I’d just point out that the typo on the Duchy’s Herbal Tinctures website is still there.

    http://www.duchyoriginals.com/echinacea_tincture.php

  • Mike

    I’m disappointed. Here was me thinking Charles Windsor avidly read my every word…

  • Zeno wrote: “But the situation is far worse. Like the General Chiropractic Council, the CNHC do not judge the efficacy or safety of any of the treatments offered by its registrants. By not doing so, the public can never be protected from misleading claims made by its registrants.”

    That’s an interesting statement, Zeno. Does this mean that the General Medical Council and the General Dental Council are not fit for purpose, for neither of those bodies is obliged to judge the efficacy or safety of it’s registrants’ practices either?

  • I forgot to update this thread when I got a reply from the DoH, which only took a few days.

    The gist of the letter was “We may have given them some money, but they’re a voluntary regulator, not a statutory one, so we don’t have any oversight of them.”

    This is not entirely unsurprising, but disappointing.

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