A general record of my ongoing battle with all forms of nonsense.

Friday 2 April 2010

OfQuack launches six-month bullshit amnesty: the regulator that doesn’t regulate

Regular readers of this blog will know that some time ago I began making complaints to the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council about reflexologist members who happily promote their bogus treatments despite the fact that there was not a jot of evidence to support them.

The CNHC has now informed me that for the next six months, they will no longer be processing any complaints that are similar to the ones I’ve submitted. By similar, I take this to mean complaints regarding practitioners who mislead their clients by making unjustifiable or false statements, including practitioners who have already been cautioned by the CNHC for doing it before.

The CNHC ruled in my favour of my original complaints, and told the members to stop making the claims, giving them until the end of March 2010 (4 months!) to remove them from their web sites. So now the four months are up, how many web sites have changed? I went back to look at 13 of the web sites I originally complained about.

Of the 13, two of the websites no longer exist which left 11 I could check.

Three of reflexologists seem to have toned down the claims, though continue to make them:
  • Linda Pate seems to have prefixed her claims with the statement “there is a view that”.
  • Lina Ramchand perhaps believes that her claims that reflexology releases toxins, can help with "infertility issues" and can "lead to easier child birth" comply now that she’s put them within quotation marks.
  • Siobhan Elliot seems to have removed the claims to treat colic, IBS and arthritis from her site but now states “it is believed reflexology may be useful” for pregnancy and fertility. Her site invites you to request more info on reflexology, when I asked I was sent a word doc that claimed to treat IBS. Her page on reflexology links to another site that makes the claim that reflexology has anecdotally been shown effective for migraines, fertility, sleep disorders and hormonal imbalances.
Only one reflexologist has removed the bogus claims from their site. The other seven continue to happily promote their bogus treatments on their web sites on April 1st 2010, the day after the deadline they were given to remove the claims:

  • Carole Armstrong claims that reflexology "may help with a variety of conditions both acute & chronic including sleep or hormonal problems, back pain & neck pain, digestive problems such as IBS".
  • Linda Walker still makes claims for hay fever & arthritis
  • Nuala Bent still claims that Reflexology “is helpful for many conditions including: Sinusitis, Menstrual Problems, Menopausal Problems, Stress, Migraine, Back Pain, Arthritis, Sciatica, Frozen Shoulder”
  • Hazel Parry still promotes reflexology for “migraine, arthritis, sleep disorders and fertility issues.”
  • Marguerite Gunn still mentions reflexology as a treatment for asthma, joint problems, back pain, colds/flu, hay fever, allergies and infertility.
  • Mascha Mieris still advertises reflexology for “Back Pain, Migraine, Headache, Infertility, Arthritis, Sleep Disorders, Sports Injuries, Hormonal Imbalances, Digestive Disorders, stress-related Conditions.”
  • Alison Graham continues to promote reflexology to “improve digestive function, lower blood pressure, improve sleeping patterns, balance hormonal problems and benefit the immune system.”
But maybe all of these practitioners had made the changes within their practices, and just failed to update their sites?


I phoned four of the practitioners. Carole Armstrong was more than happy over the phone to tell me that reflexology “can help” with arthritis. Linda Walker claimed to treat both arthritis and hay fever. Hazel Perry said that reflexology “can help her” referring to my mother’s fictitious arthritis. Sharon Dean, the only reflexologist who had removed the claims from their web site, was told me that “some people believe it can” help with infertility problems, though she did clarify that this was “not proven”.

To see what the CNHC would do about their members continuing to flout their regulations in spite of an existing ruling against them, I submitted a second complaint about Linda Walker. I included email evidence that Linda Walker was still making the same claims as before.

The CNHC told me that they would not be investigating this complaints, or any complaints like it. 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”.

The CNHC, it seems, now refuses to investigate complaints about its members making misleading or unjustifiable claims – even against those it has already ruled against.

Its members have shown their lack of respect for any decision made by the CNHC by not removing the claims from their web sites.

How can the CNHC still consider itself to be a regulatory body if it no longer regulates?


Zeno said...

And the Government is minded to allow OfQuack to 'regulate' even more woo merchants? Andy Burnham plans to regulate Chinese medicine and herbal remedies


skepticat said...


What alternative universe does offquack inhabit?

How can I vent my frustration?

Ah - I know.

*Digs out leaflets collected from various woo-merchants over the past few months and looks up ASA address*

David Gerard said...

Indeed. ASA complaint time.

Also one against Ofquack for claiming to be a regulator.

Anonymous said...

So... will it take OfQuack six months to publish their advice - or is that length of time necessary in order to enable the happy promoters to make changes to their website? Either way, it seems ridiculous for OfQuack to ignore valid complaints for six months on the basis that they and/or their registrants 'aren't ready yet'.

It seems unreasonable to assume that it takes six months to amend a website making unsubstantiated claims - after all, the McTimoney chiropractors managed to amend (OK, suspend) their websites almost overnight...

As for taking six months to publish advice on advertising, if registrants have already been found to be making unjustified claims then why do OfQuack not enforce the suspension of health claims on their websites until such time as they can publish appropriate advice and ensure that registrants adhere to said advice?

Sean Ellis said...

I'm happy to act as proxy too.

Evan Harris MP said...

Zeno's advice is sound.

After the election, if I survive, I will get onto this via PQs. keep up the good work!

davidp said...

I too am “minded to legislate” so that all providers of unlicensed medicines have to register with a regulator. Before being allowed to register, they should have to prove that they are properly trained in a reality based effective treatment regime. I.e. legislate to require registration, and don't let any quacks (that's all of the "providers of unlicensed medicines") be registered.

Effective means the "medicines" or "treatments" they propose to use actually work effectively, beyond placebo effects, in good quality trials. Properly trained means competent diagnostics, not "lacking Qi in the spleen" or "smoothing out the entergy fields".

We used to have such a law. It was called the medical registration act. How did so many quacks get around it?