Wow, what a stinker this article turns out to be. Not just because of the content, but also the credulity of the journalists.

This story appeared on SMH online today. It details plans to establish a register for quacks, apparently in an attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sounds a little bit like the register set up in the UK recently and blogged about here.


I read this article with trepidation, firstly because I think putting quacks on a register lends legitimacy to their profession and this is undeserved in my opinion.

“The industry’s reputation was dealt a blow this month after the NSW Supreme Court convicted a homeopath of the manslaughter of his nine-month-old daughter, who died of septicemia caused by chronic eczema.”

Yes, the industry was dealt a blow, but this was not because of a shonky homeopath, this was because homeopathy does not work in the treatment of eczema. Or any other illness in fact. A meta-analysis published in the Lancet in 2005 compared 110 conventional and homeopathy trials and the effect of homeopathy was deemed no greater than placebo (Shang et al., Lancet 2005; 366: 726–32).

An editorial which appeared in the same issue of the Lancet stated; “despite 150 years of unfavourable findings…the more dilute the evidence for homeopathy becomes, the greater seems its popularity.” Why we keep wasting money and good science on testing it, to continually get the same answer is beyond me.

The article continues;
University of Queensland researcher Jon Wardle, who heads a steering committee to set-up a register said; “We are making sure that when the public sees a naturopath they have training, act ethically and if something goes wrong, there is a complaints procedure,” he said. Mr Wardle said the lack of formal accreditation meant people with as little as one week’s training could call themselves naturopaths and it is these people who dispense a large quantity homeopathic remedies.

This is where I get annoyed. Firstly, there is a complaints procedure in NSW. It was established with the new Code of Conduct for Unregistered Practitioners which was introduced in August 2008. Section 17 of the code states that practitioners must display the Code and information about the way in which clients may make a complaint to the HCCC if necessary.

Funny that, I went to Mind Body Wallet a few weeks back armed with my code and saw it displayed nowhere, neither at stalls doing invasive procedures such as live blood analysis, or massage or anywhere.

I have to say, I am not convinced that the relevant regulatory bodies/associations or members of them are particularly concerned about following the rules when it comes to legislation. In NSW at least, they seem to have dutifully ignored conforming to this recent legislation. I am suspicious that the establishment of a nationwide register is really just a sneaky way to add undeserved legitimacy to profession where there is scant evidence for efficacy.

But this is not the worst part about this article. The article was penned by 2 journalists, Rachel Browne and Melissa Singer, neither of whom seem to understand much about what constitutes conventional medicine or doctors. They refer to a British podiatrist and homeopath Tariq Khan, as Dr Khan. This is misleading and infers that Khan is a clinical doctor, naturopaths use the title ND, (and referred to by some as not a doctor). They tell us that Dr Khan recommends homeopathy be used in conjunction with conventional treatment. And of course a homeopath is going to endorse the use of homeopathy.

The man apparently had talks with the head of dermatology at St George Hospital, Dedee Murrell, to discuss using homeopathic remedies for an incurable disease, the rare genetic condition epidermolysis bullosa. Let me state that again. Homeopathy as treatment for an incurable disease. This following the beginning of the article where the journalists discuss the parents of Gloria Thomas being charged with manslaughter for shunning conventional medicine and treating their daughter’s eczema with homeopathy. She subsequently died.

This is very poor journalism. To begin an article with charges of manslaughter for a homeopathy-related death and then discuss using it for incurable diseases is just credulous on the part of Rachel and Melissa.

But then this; “The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association have given qualified support to the use of complementary medicine where there is research about its outcomes.”

Precisely Rachel and Melissa. There is research. To show it does nought. Take a look at the Lancet article. Visit PubMed for goodness sake. Do some research, please.

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  • @Kilgore_Elder,

    I thought I made this clear here;

    “Firstly, there is a complaints procedure in NSW. It was established with the new Code of Conduct for Unregistered Practitioners which was introduced in August 2008”.

    My point is simply that I am not convinced introducing legislation effects the behaviour of some practitioners in the industry, based on what I have witnessed in NSW. The NSW legislation appears to have been dutifully ignored. I have no evidence to suggest a national code would be treated any differently.

    FYI, there is currently a parliamentary inquiry in SA with the aim of introducing a similar Code of Conduct to NSW for alternative practitioners.

  • Kilgore_Elder

    I think it would be best to explain that what you are discussing regarding the NSW code of conduct is state-based, whereas what is being broached here is national. A case of selective myopia maybe?

  • @AndyD and @Bastardsheep This is precisely my point also. My letter to the SMH about the issue was pointing out that they don’t adhere to current legislation yet claim they want yet more. This is not a case of picking and choosing whatever suits. If you genuinely care about the regulation of your industry and how it is perceived by the public you would be wise to respect current legislation, before asking for more to be introduced.

    Letter following;

    Dear Editor,

    One has to wonder about the sincerity of naturopaths and other alternative therapists to get rid of “quacks” through the establishment of a national register (Register to hit shonks, June 14th 2009). In NSW, a Code of Conduct for Unregistered Practitioners was introduced in August 2008. Section 5 of the code states “Health practitioners must not make claims to cure certain serious illnesses”, including cancer. Section 17 of the code states “(1) A health practitioner must display a copy of each of the following documents at all premises where the health practitioner carries on his or her practice (a) this code of conduct (b) a document that gives information about the way in which clients may make a complaint to the Health Care Complaints Commission..”. In my recent visits to places of practice, I have yet to find the code displayed once, despite thorough searching. I have also been told that a $12,000 course of homeopathy can cure my cancer. I wonder why NSW Health is not cracking down on this either.
    Given the lack of adherence to this already established legislation I can’t help but wonder if this new register is simply a stunt to distract us from the fact that many alternative “therapies” are as useful as placebo. By definition, complementary and alternative remedies are unproven. Alternative medicine that is proven to work is called medicine.

    Dr Rachael Dunlop

  • I have to go with Bastard Sheep on this one. If you want to join the club, you have to accept the rules.

    I wonder how alt-med would respond if the govt dropped the TGA altogether and allowed big pharma to introduce anything it wanted to? (I ask that rhetorically recognising that big pharma most likely own or are major shareholders in the alt-med industry anyway)

  • Complementary medicine with evidence is hardly “alternative” medicine, it’s actually “medicine” when it has evidence.

    Also the complementary nature of it means it is supposed to be used in conjunction with general medicine.

    I’d trust a naturopath over a homeopath or chiropractor any day – the natural/traditional medicines industry should be doing everything it can to self regulate itself and keep their distance from quackery.

  • AndyD, that is exactly what they’re trying to do which is why I don’t like the idea and have never liked it despite people tweeting another article on the same subject a few days earlier as though it was a good thing.
    As I’ve said before, if supporters of Supplementary, Complimentary and Alternative Medicine want it to be treated with respect, then they need to stop crying for it to be given more and lesser rights.
    What they SHOULD be crying for, is for the practitioners of it to hold themselves up to the same standards as conventional medicine. They should be pushing the practitioners to abide by the same advertising standards, the same approval standards (right down to the level of testing required for procedural/drug approval), the same requirements of personal, professional and ethical accountability.
    They should NOT be calling for their own standards, their own register, their own requirements. They’re trying to do the same thing as conventional medicine, they should live up to the same system.
    Once it does that, and ONLY once it does that, will it be deserving of any legitimacy.

  • In England the existence of a central authority for chiropractic has resulted in mass panic among practitioners due to a complaints campaign. Perhaps this is one genuinely beneficial side-effect of “legitimacy”.

    But really, it does sound a bit like they’re trying to separate the real psychics from the frauds.

  • In Ontario, Canada where homeopaths and naturopaths are licensed, regulation seems do do little to reign in ridiculous claims. It’s difficult to complain about a “standard of care” when the acknowledged curriculum includes mysticism and make-believe.

    Luckily the government seems to be getting the idea that naturopaths are not legitimate health care professionals – they recently ignored a recommendation to give them prescribing privileges (shudder).