Is there a Doctor in the clinic?
There are a lot of doctors out there, but it can be difficult to know which are properly qualified and registered medical practitioners and who are, well, just quacks.
It’s not really that much of a problem for most of us. If we’re feeling unwell, we make an appointment with our GP. If there is any doubt about their status, you can always verify they are registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) by checking their List of Registered Medical Practitioners (LRMP).
But there are so many other ‘doctors’ out there. Ignoring The House Doctor®, The Car Doctor and others who have obviously got nothing to do with health, there are many who certainly like to give the impression they are proper doctors — and I have no doubt some of them think they really are.
Take homeopaths, for example.
A simple search of the business directory yell.com shows a large number of homeopaths using the title Dr. Of course, some of them are also medically qualified and on the GMC’s LRMP, but you don’t have to look far to find examples of non-medically qualified homeopaths calling themselves Dr. Again, I have no doubt many of them think they really are doctors and some may well have qualification that entitles them to prefix their name with Dr, but no one should be in any doubt of what they are.
In the UK, Dr is not a protected title: anyone with a suitable qualification can call themselves Dr so-and-so. This is in stark contrast to, say, chiropractors, which is a protected term and its use by anyone not registered with the General Chiropractic Council is illegal under the Chiropractors Act 1994.
Things, thankfully, are a bit stricter when it comes to advertising services to the public.
Advertisers wanting to refer to themselves as “Dr”, “a doctor” (or any other similar term) should take care not to imply that they hold a general medical qualification if they do not. In general, CAP advises that if they do not possess a general medical qualification advertisers should not call themselves “Dr”.
It’s clear the ASA are concerned that people who are not registered with the GMC do not give the misleading impression to the public that they are proper medical doctors.
Last July, a homeopath in London made the mistake of placing the following ad in my local paper:
- the use of the term Dr in the company name.
- the phrase ‘Chat with our expert doctors…’ could be misleading unless there really was a registered medical practitioner at the end of the phone.
- the implied claim that homeopathy can cure psoriasis; that they have a track record in treating it; that they are backed by 35 years of treating it and that they have successfully treated more than 25,000 cases.
The last two are pretty straightforward: the ASA would require the advertiser to hold robust scientific evidence for the psoriasis claim and all the advertiser would have to do to substantiate the second would be to provide the name and GMC registration numbers of their on-call doctors.
The first point about the use of Dr in the company name is of particular concern.
I submitted a complaint to the ASA.
The ASA considered that psoriasis was a serious medical condition and the advertiser should not mention it in their ad. This was passed to the ASA’s Compliance Team to deal with and the advertiser assured them they would not repeat the claim.
All this was done informally and took till November to sort out. But that still left the issue of the company name, Dr Batra’s, and the bit about their ‘expert doctors’. The ASA decided to formally investigate this.
Meanwhile, in the 10 February issue of the same newspaper, the advertiser repeated his mistake and an identical ad appeared, making the same claim that they had assured the ASA they would not repeat.
I passed this to the ASA who decided to formally investigate all three points this time and their adjudication is published today.
The second point was easily decided — the advertiser didn’t supply any evidence that the person answering the phone was medically trained. This point was therefore upheld.
For the claims about psoriasis, the advertiser made no comment. The ASA upheld the complaint, saying:
We considered that references to “Freedom from… …Psoriasis” and Dr Batra’s Clinic as having a “track record in treating Psoriasis”, implied that the advertisers could treat psoriasis. We therefore concluded that the ad could discourage readers from seeking essential medical treatment for that condition, and concluded that the ad breached the Code.
The first point is more interesting.
But first, a bit of background on Dr Batra’s.
The full name of the company is Dr Batra’s Positive Health Clinic (UK) Ltd. Companies House list the directors as Dr Akshay Batra and Dr Mukesh Batra and it looks they are based in Mumbai, India. Dr Batra’s claim to have:
…67 state-of-the-art clinics in 28 cities across India, Dubai and UK
There appears to be just the one in the UK, in London, and the contact person there is a Dr Irfan Molvi.
Molvi also appears to have a number of other clinics, including the North London Natural Health Centre and CritiCareHealth Clinic and has come to Warhelmet’s attention on his excellent blog The Land That Tim Forgot: Are These Homeopaths Really Doctors?.
In their response to the ASA, Dr Batra’s said:
‘Dr. Batra’s’ was their brand name and was a registered trade mark with the required authorities in India and the UAE and was under application in the UK, in relation to their brand name, brand colouring and logo. They said that Mukesh Batra, the Chairman and Managing Director of the company was a fully qualified and institutionally trained doctor and had been practising homeopathy since 1974. They said he was an honorary member of the U.K. Homeopathic Medical Association and trained and shared his 36 years of experience with all 275 doctors working at Dr Batra’s practices across the country.
I don’t know whether they have, in fact, submitted an application for a trade mark in the UK, but it’s certainly not been granted yet.
Anyway, the ASA assessed what Dr Batra’s had to say and stated:
The ASA understood that Dr Batra had been practising homeopathy for over 30 years, but noted that we had not seen any evidence which showed that he held a general medical qualification. In addition, although we understood that the “Dr Batra” brand name was trademarked in some parts of the world, we noted that the brand name was not yet a registered trademark in the UK. Although we considered that readers would understand that the ad was promoting a clinic which offered homeopathic treatments, because we considered that the use of the term “Dr” in the company name implied that Dr Batra was medically qualified, and because we had not seen any evidence that that was the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
As a result:
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told the advertisers to remove the claims “Dr”, “expert doctors” and the claims relating to the efficacy of homeopathy treatment on psoriasis.
This ASA adjudication has major implications for other advertisers of pseudo science using the term Dr in their company name as well as those using the term “Dr”, “a doctor” (or any other similar term) in the body of their advertising — which now includes websites, of course.
But this doesn’t come as any surprise: one of my first ASA complaints was about the high street herbal chain Dr & Herbs in 2003.
Breaking the rules
Needless to say, neither Makesh Batra nor Irfan Molvi are on the GMC’s LRMP, but Molvi is a member of the Society of Homeopaths (a UK trade body for homeopaths). As such, he is bound by their Code of Ethics, which includes:
Advertising and Media
38 All advertising must be published in a way that conforms to the law and to (the guidance issued in the British Code of Advertising Practice). [sic]
39 Professional advertising must be factual and not seek to mislead or deceive, or make unrealistic or extravagant claims. Advertising may indicate special interests but must not make claims of superiority or disparage professional colleagues or other professionals. No promise of cure, either implicit or explicit, should be made of any named disease. All research should be presented clearly honestly and without distortion, all speculative theories will be stated as such and clearly distinguished.
Mukesh Batra does appear to be a member of the Homeopathic Medical Association (another UK trade body for homeopaths) as they claimed and they give his address as Bombay [sic]. Presumably he thought that entitled him to use the title Dr in the UK.
The HMA have a Code of Ethics and Practice. This has some interesting and relevant requirements:
6.2. No Member may use the title Doctor or Physician in their Homeopathic advertising unless registered with the General Medical Council.
6.4. Advertising must be discreet and not designed to mislead the public.
6.5. No advertisement may claim or imply any superiority over the professional services provided by other practitioners, nor give the impression that the Member is a specialist in the treatment of a particular disease.
6.6. No advertising may be used that claims to cure named diseases.
I will be submitting complaints to the SoH and the HMA shortly and it will be interesting to see how they respond to a complaint about advertising by one of their members that the ASA have already decided is misleading.