The CNHC has now upheld my complaints, asked the reflexologists to stop making unjustifiable claims, and informed me of their intention to contact all registered members to issue advice to all registered practitioners.
Oh, and they formally placed on record their thanks to me for "bringing this matter to their attention".
The CNHC’s Code of Conduct, Performance and Ethics states:
15. You must follow CNHC guidelines in relation to advertising your servicesThe key line in that paragraph is:
Any advertising you undertake in relation to your professional activities must be accurate. Advertisements must not be misleading, false, unfair or exaggerated. You must not claim that your personal skills, equipment or facilities are better than anyone else’s.
If you are involved in advertising or promoting any other product or service, you must make sure that you use your knowledge, healthcare skills, qualifications and experience in an accurate and professionally responsible way. You must not make or support unjustifiable statements relating to particular products or services. Any potential financial rewards to you should be made explicit and play no part at all in your advice or recommendations of products and services that you give to patients, clients and users.
You must not make or support unjustifiable statements relating to particular products or services.Now have I missed something here? The whole point of Complementary health is that you can make claims of efficacy without justification. Don’t get me wrong, I personally believe justification to be extremely important. My point is simply that the regulatory body is exclusively for practitioners who don't share this view.
So I started my little project. By searching for practitioners on the CNHC web site each day I could find out who joined. I actually wrote a computer program to do this as it takes multiple searches to get all the results. I would then manually check their web sites to see what was being claimed. If they made any unjustifiable claims, I reported them via the CNHC’s complaints procedure. I knocked these complaints out in a few minutes – quick enough to get the point across but so hastily that I failed on my first complaint to correct a copied & pasted spelling error and even added my own grammar hiccup at the end.
The ad suggests that reflexology is suitable for treating babies with colic, IBS and arthritus. She also claims to have experience in treating fertility issues. There is no reliable evidence to suggest that reflexology is capable of treating this issues.
But even with the bad English, it was sufficient to make the point: if the CNHC is going to regulate healthcare then it needs to deal with the question of efficacy.
Yesterday I received a call from the Maggie Dunn, the CNHC’s Chief Executive Officer to update me on the status of my complaints.
The CNHC had received evidence from the practitioners to defend their claims. They had also been in touch with the Advertising Standards Agency. The investigative committee met on Tuesday 24th November to discuss the cases.
They decided that my complaints were indeed covered by paragraph 15 of the code of conduct. All fourteen of my complaints were upheld. The practitioners will now be told to stop making these claims.
Sadly however, the CNHC decided that fitness to practice was not impaired because the unjustifiable claims were not made deliberately. The CNHC has a number of “Profession Specific Boards”. Someone from the board relating to reflexology had advised the investigative committee that it is likely the practitioner had been trained to believe that they could treat these diseases.
Now while I do not find it at all surprising that the practitioner was trained this way, I still take issue with this decision. If a practitioner has undergone training that tells them they can treat specific diseases for which there is no evidence then the practitioner has not undergone proper training. An untrained or poorly trained practitioner is surely unfit to practice.
What’s more positive however, is what else the CNHC now plans to do. It makes no sense for the CNHC to allow new registrants to join, only to be immediately reported by me. Instead, I’m told, the CNHC will now look at the evidence and provide advice in advance.
The evidence review will go beyond reflexology; it will extend to all of the disciplines covered by the CNHC.
The CNHC will then be contacting all registrants to explain what they are allowed, and not allowed, to claim.
I confirmed with Maggie that this advice will not solely relate to advertising. I was told that the advice will make clear that practitioners are not permitted to make these claims within the day to day interactions with their clients.
I also expressed a concern to Maggie over the training received by the practitioners. There are undoubtedly many courses out there teaching that reflexology is an efficacious treatment for many diseases. Would the CNHC be doing anything about these courses?
Maggie told me that as a regulator, the CNHC sees it as their duty to get in contact with alternative health course providers and authors. Given the nature of my original complaint, I expect this will enforce the view that claims must be justifiable.
What would a course on reflexology consisting only of justifiable claims cover exactly? How to spell reflexology?
This is so important, and so surprising I feel I need summarise in bullet points:
- CNHC will tell practitioners to remove claims they cannot justify.
- CNHC will conduct a review of evidence base for regulated therapies.
- CNHC will contact all registrants to instruct them not to make claims without justification.
- CNHC will contact complementary health course providers and authors to instruct them not to make claims without justification.
Could this the end of the CNHC? It would be hugely ironic if forcing its members to act ethically became the cause of its demise.
Finally, Maggie told me that the investigations committee had decided that they wished to “place on formal record their thanks to Simon Perry for bringing this matter to their attention.”