The wash-up from the AVN judgement – what does it mean?
Yesterday the AVN won their case against the HCCC on a technicality under Section 7 of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993. This is a hollow victory in my opinion. Here’s my (IANAL) summary of what happened.
The AVN were never really bothered by the HCCC public warning issued about them. Meryl refused to post it cause “she didn’t agree with it” and was happy to call the HCCC corrupt and slur their reputation far and wide. What the AVN really wanted from this Supreme Court Case was to be granted certiorari. .
What’s that you say? Put simply, this means the AVN wanted the Supreme Court to declare the actions of the charity watchdog, the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR) in revoking their charity license, illegal.
To assert this, the AVN focused on the OLGR’s reliance on the HCCC public warning arguing that if it was deemed not valid, then it followed that the OLGR actions could be lifted. This indeed was the crux of their case.
Here’s an excerpt from the judgement
- 21 – The plaintiff submitted that its rights were not only directly affected, but also altered, by the HCCC’s decision to issue the Public Warning…It argued that the decision directly exposed it to a new hazard of an adverse exercise of public power (having its fundraising capacity revoked).
But the judge was not convinced
“However, the plaintiff could not point to any provision in the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 that made the Public Warning a mandatory relevant consideration in the Minister’s decision whether to revoke the authority.”
As a result of this, the judge made the following decision
“Accordingly there is no basis on which I could find that the Minister for Gaming is legally obliged to take into account the Public Warning. For these reasons, certiorari does not lie.”
This is the important bit. Whilst it is true that the OLGR took the HCCC warning into account when making the decision, as the judge pointed out, this was not a legal obligation and the loss of their charity license was for reasons much more serious.
An audit of the AVN by the OLGR found several serious breaches of the Charitable Trusts Act 1993 which have now been referred to the Department of Justice and Attorney General and are awaiting decisions. In revoking the AVN’s charity licence the OLGR cited three reasons; that monies had been raised for specific purposes then spent elsewhere, that monies had not been administered properly, and it was in the public interest as the AVN were dishonest in denying an anti-vaccine agenda. The final point cited the HCCC warning in support, but was concerned with the contents of the AVN website.
Meanwhile in Meryl-land
“…the OLGR had found several errors with the network’s bookkeeping system and some minor problems with the way in which fundraising income was accounted for… errors which any small, volunteer-run organisation can and does make…”
With respect to the AVN website the OLGR said,
“The Organisation’s website is misleading in that it may lead people making donations to believe that they are donating to a cause which promotes vaccination whereas the Organisation adopts an anti-vaccination position.”
(Indeed, the judge even enquired as to why the AVN were so “coy” with respect to their anti-vaccine agenda. Meryl can deny it until she’s blue in the face, but nobody is falling for that one anymore).
“When requested by the HCCC to publish a disclaimer on its website the Organisation failed to do so.”
So as you can see, the OLGR did not rely solely on the HCCC warning when making their decision and as the judge stated, neither did they have any legal obligation to do so.
So as far as I can see, nothing has changed as far as the OLGR issues. The AVN are still in the shit in this regard, and I can’t see any reason why the OLGR would back down now.
The HCCC warning constituted but a small part in support of their actions, indeed as much as being cited as supporting evidence for their website being misleading. But this is by no means the only evidence that the AVN website is full to the brim with anti-vaccine canards. Just ask anyone who knows anything about the anti-vaccine movement (pick me! pick me!).
Now Meryl is not known for her comprehension skills, but even I was a little surprised by her interpretation of what I have just explained to you above. From her victory e-newsletter.
“This (HCCC) warning led to the OLGR revoking our charity authority to fundraise though they were under no legal obligation to do so.
No Meryl. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Which brings me to another point. Meryl is now claiming that the decision yesterday found the 2 complaints used by the HCCC to investigate the AVN to be invalid. This is absolutely not the case.
The court found that the HCCC investigated the complaints under Section 7 of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 which allows for an individual to complain about an unregistered health practitioner or service. This was the technicality I was referring to earlier.
The judge asserted that the Ken McLeod complaint needed to provide evidence of a person being directly influenced about their vaccination decision as a direct result of the AVN’s website (the subject of the investigation by the HCCC) in the form of one person who showed they made a decision based on the AVN website. And if not Section 7 did not apply.
From the judgement
“..all I needed to be satisfied of was that at least one person had read the plaintiff’s website and that its contents had affected that person’s decision whether to vaccinate, or have another person (usually a child) vaccinated. It was not necessary that any particular person be identified. ”
The HCCC lawyers could not provide this evidence, thus the investigation was declared illegal and the public health warning quashed. No judgement was made about the validity of the complaints, nor the information contained within them. The judgement was purely based on the HCCC investigating the complaints under the wrong section of the legislation.
Likewise, there was no discussion about the validity of the HCCC’s conclusions that the AVN’s information is misleading and purely antivax. This still stands. The judge’s ruling was purely based on the HCCC using the wrong section of the legislation to investigate the AVN.
But over in Meryl land;
“I am just so pleased that the Supreme Court agreed with our original contention that the HCCC had no jurisdiction to investigate us based on the complaints which were not valid complaints according to the HCC Act (sic).”
Wrong again. And there’s more on the HCCC having jurisdiction over the AVN below.
So the AVN got off on a technicality. Damn nation you might shout, how can this happen? What the hell is wrong with the HCCC?
Well let me tell you some good things that came out of this case.
When the HCCC first received these complaints they were unsure how to deal with them because in the classical sense, the AVN were not a health care provider. They didn’t openly offer medical advice (but they did do it), they didn’t take blood or massage you, so they fell between the gaps of the HCCC legislation.
Indeed, in the early days, Meryl asserted everywhere she went that the HCCC did not have jurisdiction over the AVN because she was not a health care provider. She said it. Everywhere.
But by suing the HCCC, she has performed an epic foot bullet. She gone done and got herself legally classified as a health care service.
Here’s what the judgement says:
“Vaccination is a matter about health. The provision of information about vaccination is a health education service. It is common ground, and I accept, that the plaintiff is a “health service provider” within the meaning of s 4 of the Act since it provides “health education services”.
What does this mean? Well it means we have precedent and she now opens herself up to a whole lot more litigation as she is now officially a health service provider.
So prior this case, when she had been running around saying the HCCC had no jurisdiction over her? Maybe they didn’t but they absolutely and officially and technically do now.
So whilst the AVN are screaming victory from the rooftops, some of us have bothered to read the judgement and what we see is something of a hollow victory for the AVN. I certainly can’t see any evidence for the OLGR loosening their grip on the AVN’s precious charity license and this is ultimately what the AVN want back.
In closing, there are a couple of other interesting things about this case which are worth mentioning. During the lengthy discussions about whether there was any evidence for the AVN directly influencing someone to not vaccinate, the judge made the following statement
“…the health service has not been shown to “affect the clinical management or care of an individual client”. Although it might have that tendency, and although the plaintiff hopes to have that effect, I do not consider this to be sufficient to establish that it has had that effect.”
Note; “..the plaintiff hopes to have that effect..” In other words, there was no evidence that the 20 years of research and constant campaigning and thousands of Facebook posts and tweets are having any effect on peoples’ decisions about vaccinating. Jeez. That’s a kick in the face to the AVN isn’t it?
And finally, all the reports on this story have referred to the AVN as anti-vaccine, despite Meryl continuing to deny her group is. This has made made one of Meryl’s mates pretty annoyed and she wrote about it this morning (h/t Dave the Happy Singer)
From the AVN Y! Group, from Fran Sheffield of Homeopathy Plus!
“I think almost everyone, supporters and non-supporters, believe the AVN is antivaccine in spite of its protests to the contrary.
How can they do otherwise when 99.9% of information about vaccines released by the AVN is anti or reveals their problems? When there is not explanation why this imbalance exists?
It is possible to be BOTH anti-vaccine and pro-choice but when the anti-vaccine label is denied in the face of evidence to the contrary, it makes us look dishonest – something the judge hinted at with her ‘coy’ statement? It also places our pro-choice position in the back seat, out of people’s minds.
As far as public opinion goes, I don’t think the anti-vaccine position is the problem – they can cope with that.
The problem is that most people, even supporters in secret, now believe the AVN is dishonest and this has caused the AVN more harm than anything else. This is what will take a long time to get over, not any perceived anti-vaccine stance which they can respect even it they don’t agree.
Do we have a blind spot?
If the AVN wants to be perceived as being a truthful organisation then it has to proudly accept the anti-vaccine label or do something that explains (repeatedly) why most of the information it provides about vaccines and vaccine promoters is negative.
Watch out Meryl. Even your mates are seeing through you now.
PS If you are a lawyer and spot any obvious errors in my interpretation of the judgement, please leave a comment below
Please see this recent update from Reasonable Hank where Meryl claims the OLGR based their actions entirely on the HCCC warning. I have no words.
A lesson in “do your research”
I’ll be brief because honestly, I’ve got better things to do.
A few days ago, I received an email via the organisers of a talk I’m giving in Canberra in a few weeks’ time. I’ve decided to publish it here with comments correcting the person’s accusations as I was frankly gobsmacked at their lack of ability to research some very simple claims.
Ms Wilyman began her PhD at UoW in 2007, then in 2008-2010 she transferred supervision to Murdoch University, WA, where she was supervised by Dr Peter Dingle (who no longer works there, and yes, THAT Peter Dingle). She transferred back to UoW in 2011, to
Dr Prof Martin again, where she is completing a project entitled “A critical analysis of the Australian government’s rationale for its vaccination policy”.
Phew, so far that’s a long PhD!
It seems she objects to me giving a talk to the Canberra Skeptics on February 15th. I won’t copy paste the entire email, for clarity I’m going to address each claim separately, but there is a copy in full here.
Firstly, she got the date wrong (15.1.12). I’m speaking on 15.2.12.
“…she is regularly observed putting misinformation about vaccination on websites such as ‘The Skeptics Book of Pooh Pooh.”
I like to think I only publish accurate information, so I always check references and sources to the best of my ability before publishing. It would have made it easier for me if Ms Wilyman indicated which information on my site was wrong, because I can’t find any.
Note that she says “regularly” which leads me to think she doesn’t agree with much of what I post here. She also mentions other websites, and perhaps she means the piece I wrote some months back for Mamamia. There was a healthy debate about the info I posted there, mostly from people who don’t agree with vaccination full stop, but the information was very well received. I would have thought if it was an example of my “regular misinformation”, I would have been thoroughly corrected by the health professionals who applauded me for the piece and passed it on to their patients and colleagues.
“She recently received a letter from Murdoch University asking her to remove a poster (presented by myself at the National Health Promotion Conference in Perth in 2009)which she had inaccurately presented on this website”.
Not exactly. I received an email following a very polite phone call from IP lawyer Madeleen Rousseau from Freehills in WA on January 20th, 2012. To say she sounded exasperated on the phone is an understatement. You see it appears she has been given the job of chasing down where Ms Wilyman has misused the Murdoch logo on said poster and without permission. Her job is to try to remove all traces of it from the Internet.
I removed the poster from the above link, sent a confirmation email to Ms Rousseau, she responded with a thank you, that was it. Notice she says in her correspondence, “Murdoch…has spent considerable time and energy in having the poster removed from various (anti vaccination) websites and cannot allow the poster to be used in any format on any website”. She was polite, I co-operated, there were no stand-over lawyer tactics or threatening letters.
As for Judy’s allegation that I had somehow “..inaccurately presented (the poster) on this website..” I’m not entirely sure what she means by this. On the contrary, it appears that Judy has misused the Murdoch logo which is why their IP lawyers are trawling the Internet and attempting to erase the poster from history.
Next she says I was asked to remove derogatory comments about academics. There was no such request in the email I have published in full above. I don’t ever recall being asked this. This is a fabrication as far as I can tell.
Next she says I left derogatory comments about her on my site, incorrectly referring to her as anti-vaccine. I did indeed call her anti-vaccine and for good reason. Let’s see why.
Ms Wilyman has pieces published on well recognised anti-vaccine sites including Whale.to, SaneVax, the AVN blog (whose website was called anti-vaccine by the HCCC), she has given lectures with Meryl Dorey, President of the AVN in Western Australia.
In June 2010, she wrote a letter to the West Australian newspaper which contained the usual anti-vaccine canards and scaremongering we have come to expect from her mates over at the AVN. It was covered in detail over at Second Sight who reported on what she wrote:
“…childhood vaccination schedule is “not based on science”. Vaccines contain toxins. Vaccines are not monitored by doctors. Vaccines are a “known cause of allergies, anaphylaxis and autoimmune diseases”. “There is no proof for the theory of herd immunity”. “Infectious diseases declined by 1950 in Australia due to improvements in sanitation, hygiene and nutrition.”
Ms Wilyman, you can claim you’re not anti-vaccine all you like, but your writings contain well known anti-vaccine canards and are published on high profile anti-vaccine websites. If you can show me evidence to the contrary I will look at it and remove my classification of you as anti-vaccine if I am satisfied you have changed your stance. At the moment, I’m not.
Update: Whilst Judy Wilyman claims not to be anti-vaccine, this recording suggests otherwise.
Next “and her derogatory remarks about the ABC’s policies are offensive to the community who would like an academic debate on this important topic”.
The community wants a debate on the ABC’s policies? That’s a first to me.
“She is openly spreading misinformation about the vaccination topic and yet your organization has invited her to speak about vaccination and the misinformation on Dr. Google?”
Below is the description of my talk sent to the organisers
Firstly, she hasn’t cited the apparent misinformation I am spreading and secondly my talk is about health information on the Internet with vaccination as an example. This does not mean the entire talk will be about vaccination. And is she saying that conspiracies and chemtrails are not misinformation? Curious.
Ms Wilyman is a PhD student, approximately 4/5 years into her project. She seems to know my blog/website quite well. As a research student one would have thought she would be able to do one of two things: 1) click the “About/contact” button on my website – I get plenty of email via this method; 2) Google my email address as the organisers of the talk did to forward me her email. Perhaps she didn’t contact me directly because she was attempting to tarnish my reputation with the organisers hoping they would cancel my talk? Pure speculation of course…
No, you’re not an “independent researcher”, you’re a PhD student. And why do I need to contact you to find out your views about vaccines? They’re pasted everywhere on the internet on lots of anti-vax sites.
“Please could you also inform me of the qualifications that Rachael Dunlop has to speak on the topic of vaccination as my understanding is that her specialization is heart research”.
My qualifications are easy to find Ms Wilyman. And if you are, as you claim an independent researcher you could have done some, you know research, and found out that my specialty is not heart disease.
Are you really too lazy to look further than the name of my employer (The Heart Research Institute)? This shows your complete lack of research ability. You see there are lots of research groups under the roof of HRI. Some work directly in heart disease, some work on diabetes, some work on nutrition. Me? I’m a cell biologist who happens to work on ageing and MND. You could have found that it you went to PubMed. Or even Google (chortle). Or even my Twitter bio. Fail.
As for my qualifications? You know she just might have me on this one. Given that the theme of my talk is Dr Google I can think on someone who is better qualified than me to talk about this issue, Wilyman’s mate Meryl Dorey. She’s had more than 20 years of education on Dr Google.
But there’s one thing that I have that Ms Dorey doesn’t have and that’s the ability to critically analyse information, whether it be a scientific study or a news article or a website.
You see, I have a PhD already (sorry to rub it in Judy) and more than 6 years of research experience which includes writing, reviewing and critically analysing scientific information. So my BS meter is pretty finely tuned. Thus, I can confidently say I’m more than qualified to sift between fact and fiction on the Internet. And given that I’ve been studying the tactics of the anti-vax movement for more than 3 years, this is a bonus. One might say, a desirable but not essential qualification.
Finally. “I will copy this across to the community as it is important that the public is aware of the credibility of the information they are receiving”.
And I will also copy this critique of your lack of ability to do your research across the community.
You’re welcome and thanks for trying.
UPDATE: It seems Ms Wilyman has been alerting a lot of people to my talk. This just in
Another update: Judy Wilyman has again written to Canberra Skeptics and the email has been published on Meryl Dorey’s blog. You can see the text in full on Reasonable Hank’s blog here. Contains the text that because I’m on the editorial board of a CAM journal I’m somehow a Big Pharma Shill. It’s worth a look. You will LOL.
Watered down science being taught in Aussie universities
Did you think homeopathy was not publicly funded in Australia? It is.
There has been lots of talk recently in the Australian media about CAM in universities. A new lobby group known as Friend of Science in Medicine was recently established to get the discussion going about whether this is a good thing. (Full disclosure, I recently added my name to the 400-long list of doctors, scientists and concerned citizens who are worried about pseudoscience creeping into universities).
The discussion has ruffled some feathers and I think this is a good thing. As I said in a comment on The Conversation, what is wrong with us looking at these courses and determining if what they are teaching is evidence-based? If we find there is nothing wrong, then we can carry on our merry way.
Yet, some CAM peeps don’t seem to see it this way. Some have been behaving as if they are being persecuted. Some are claiming that taking CAM out of unis puts the public at risk as practitioners are more likely exposed to shonky teaching (I haven’t seen any evidence for this, but as usual I’m willing to look at it if it’s true).
But this misses the point that it doesn’t matter where you teach it, if it’s nonsense outside of a university it remains nonsense when taught in one. Teaching homoeopathy or tactile therapy in a university environment won’t make it work. To see how homeopathy works, go here.
The argument got rather heated on Twitter recently with Prof Kerryn Phelps jumping in the mix. I had quite a long conversation with her, which remained mostly civil (if not a little strained) until I suggested we weed out the stuff we know doesn’t work or exist, such as subluxations in chiropractic and homeopathy.
The response I got was odd to say the least and I’m still unsure exactly what she was getting at. See the screen shot below (read from bottom up).
Some people suggested this was an example of the No True Scotsman fallacy, which I kinda agree with. More simply, it appears to say “don’t mention homoeopathy, even we’re embarrassed by that”. If you have another idea, please leave a comment.
Someone else called “SkepNurse” also posed the question to Prof Phelps regarding which CAM she would unequivocally say was not worth pursuing any more, either because it can never work or has been proven not to. She posted these tweets on Jan 26th and is still awaiting a direct answer.
Anyway, I’d been poking around for information on whether homeopathy was taught in universities as a stand alone course, and I hadn’t found any evidence. CAM practitioners had confirmed this as well, pointing out that it was a requirement to enter Bachelor of Health Science (Complementary Medicine) at Charles Sturt University but was not taught as a separate subject.
Well, they were wrong.
Homeopathy is taught as a stand alone
course subject at a publicly funded university in NSW as part of Southern Cross University’s Bachelor of Clinical Sciences. They offer introductory homeopathy and clinical homeopathy. It is also offered as a service in the health clinic
There is even a prize offered at SCU.
The Warren Brauer Memorial Prize – Homoeopath Dispensary to the value of $500
Awarded to the Naturopathy award graduate who has exhibited a high level of proficiency in the understanding and application of homeopathy.
Donated by Brauer Natural Medicine Pty Ltd
When I’ve previously written about public funding for homeopathy in Australia the most I could do was speculate about how much it might cost the tax payer. It’s complicated because our public health system does not directly fund homeopathy as health care, but it does supplement private health funds (which do cover homoeopathy) and also some doctors/gps will
prescribe recommend it.
This is the first evidence I have found that tax payers funds directly fund this nonsense. And what a waste of money it is.
I’ve written to SCU to ask for their course outlines for both classes. Let’s hope I get them so I can get a better idea of exactly what they teach.
With continued pressure from FSM, this conversation will likely continue for some time. I would like to see the first casualty be these courses at SCU.
This comment on The Conversation has really summed up this debate for me so far. It’s from Didier Nave, an ex-herbalist of 25 years and the following excerpt speaks volumes;
Time to face the facts. The data is coming in and its not looking good. It’s clearly showing that what we do is not much better than placebo. So the question is do we have the humility to accept the evidence and dump these theories. I doubt it….Have i seen the industry contest or reject its own stupidities like live blood analysis or “detoxing” when it can’t name one toxin that its methods supposedly detox? No, it embraces them instead.”
To see how The Dean of the School of Health, Professor Iain Graham, defends woo in his uni, see Mick Vagg’s post here.
There’s more info on woo in public and non-public facilities here.
Thanks to Loretta Marron for assisting with research.
More interesting reading on the current debate (and for healthy discussion in comments) see two recent articles from The Conversation;
To see the investigation of woo in universities from The Skeptic magazine (and written by Tim Mendham with research from Jo Benhamu) go here (pdf).
Australian Gov: vaccinate or lose benefits.
I’ve been in a combination of jet-lag/virus induced haze for the last week and a half which has left me lethargic and finding it difficult to concentrate.
But this morning I had reason to leap out of bed at the ungodly hour of 05:30 to hit the computer and report on some very good news.
Our government has gone done something good and given that this doesn’t happen very often, I reckon it’s worthy of a pre-dawn blog post.
The news, which was brought to my attention by Fuzztwin on Twitter, reports on changes to the current childhood immunisation schedule to include three new vaccines and increase the incentives for parents who complete the schedule, effective 2013.
Chickenpox or varicella which as not previously been covered by the schedule (and hence was an out-of-pocket expense for parents wanting to vaccinate against chickenpox) will now be included.
Also new is vaccinations for meningococcal C and pneumococcal.
The new schedule brings the number of infectious diseases covered by the schedule to twelve.
Importantly, reports indicate that the number of shots kids will be required to get will actually be reduced however, since there will be new combination vaccines used.
According to a report in The Herald Sun a new combination vaccine will cover measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox in one shot and will be administered at 18 months replacing the previous MMR given at 4 years. The number of visits will increase however, owing to the new scheduled shot at 18 months.
There are also changes to the incentive scheme for parents and this is where it gets interesting (well, for nerds of legislation like me).
Under the current maternity immunisation allowance scheme introduced in 1997, parents receive two one-off payments totalling $258 if they complete the vaccination schedule. This will be scrapped under the new system and replaced with three payments of $726 each, paid at one, three and five years. If kids are not fully vaccinated, then the $2100 will be withheld. (This is part of the current family tax benefit part A end-of-year supplement so it’s not an entirely new benefit).
Health Minister Nicola Roxon said: “We know that immunisation is fundamental to a child’s lifelong health and that’s why we want to make sure that children are immunised at the right time.
“We want all Australian kids to grow up healthy, and immunisation is essential to that.”
What is not mentioned in any of the news stories is whether this effects the current options for conscientious objectors. Under the current system, you can still get the maternity immunisation allowance even if you don’t vaccinate, if you identify as a conscientious objector (CO). Excerpt from the Centrelink website which administers the payment:
a recognised immunisation provider (e.g. your doctor) signs a letter or form saying that:
• they have told you about the benefits and risks of immunising your child and you have a conscientious objection to immunising your child (your provider should complete a Health Insurance Commission Immu-12 form),
• immunising your child with a particular vaccine is medically contraindicated (your provider should use the Health Insurance Commission Immu-11 form),
• the child has a natural immunity to the disease, or
• the vaccine is not available,
• you or your partner are a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist and you have a letter from an official of the Church advising that you are a practising member of the Church.
This is certainly going to be the bit the anti-vaxers are interested in. The news stories appeared overnight (at least one was published at 12:00) so we have yet to see a reaction from Meryl and her buddies. But you can expect some major *head asplosions* on this one, guaranteed. Particularly since Meryl had previously claimed she has some sort of influence when it comes to vaccination policy. It seems she might have missed this one.
This is not the only piece of good news in this story either. Reports also detail a new pertussis awareness campaign in the form of mail-outs to warn parents about the dangers of the current epidemic and advise on ways to protect their kids.
This is a direct response to campaigning by the McCaffery family who lost their baby Dana in 2009 at 4 weeks of age in the grips of a pertussis epidemic. The family was never warned about the risks of pertussis or that they needed, as parents and carers, to get boosters, since the effectiveness of the vaccines wanes over time.
From the Age:
Ms Roxon said the aim of the whooping cough campaign was to raise awareness, particularly among parents planning pregnancies and others to be aware of the dangers to infants and the need to have vaccinations at two months, four months and six months after birth.
But the vaccinations do not provide lifelong protection from whooping cough and children should have booster shots at age four and then during teenage years, Ms Roxon said.
”Whooping cough is not just a childhood disease, as adolescents and adults can account for half the cases in the community.”
Overall, this is a step in the right direction by the Australian Government and I applaud Nicola Roxon for (finally) taking action. The introduction of the chickenpox vaccine is also a welcome addition to the schedule, since it costs as much to get as the current maternity immunisation allowance (~$200) making the incentive seem moot.
It’s still early in Australia, and since this story only broke overnight, I wait with interest for the response of the anti-vaxers. I’ve also searched, but to no avail, for a government media release, as I’m keen to find out if any changes have been made to the CO conditions.
One suspects they will remain in place, at least in some form, since they are necessary for kids with genuine medical reasons for not vaccinating, but given that the maternity immunisation allowance scheme is to be scrapped, it appears they will at least need to be migrated, if not re-drafted.
I await with interest.
Update: the government statement about changes can be found here
Transparency, the TGA way.
This was posted on Twitter this morning by journalist Rada Rouse, and I simply had to share.
The document was released by the TGA in response to an FOI for Infringement Notices and Enforceable Undertakings issued by the TGA against sponsors on the ARTG.
In other words, someone was trying to find out which companies who have products on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods and have been issued with infringement notices for unspecified breaches.
In April this year the TGA began a transparency review so consumers would be better informed about their practices. If this is the result then they’re doing it wrong.
Download a copy of the form here.
As someone on Twitter said
ABC Science don’t need no stinkin’ science
Several weeks ago, I submitted a complaint to ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs regarding a story that ABC Science had run on the HPV vaccine.
The story concerned a study in progress from well known anti-vaxer Judy Wilyman (for more background see Dave the Happy Singer’s blog post).
ABC Science presented her views in a completely credulous fashion omitting any context that she has lectured with the sometimes-president of the AVN Meryl Dorey and has close affiliation with the AVN. (In response to my complaint about this lack of disclosure, the ABC apparently asked Ms Wilyman if she was affiliated with the AVN and when she said no, they were satisfied with her response).
As you’ll see below, they have also taken out of context my complaint that her views should have been reported along with a declaration that she does have anti-vaccine affiliations to say I don’t think her views should have been reported at all. This was not what I was trying to say and I don’t think my complaint conveys this (it’s reproduced below so you can decide for yourself – let me know in the comments if you think it does).
Overall, I am extremely dissatisfied with this response. I wouldn’t care if her piece was presented as opinion – but it was presented as science with comments from Prof Booy (one wonders why he keeps getting quoted in such articles – it only serves to boost the legitimacy of the anti-vaxer and does nothing for his reputation).
It also comes off as rather patronising in my opinion, beginning with addressing me as “Ms” when my correspondence was from “Dr”. You’ll also note below that ABC neglected to address my comment about an internal ABC memo which stated that any material or interviews which involve the AVN or affiliates must be published in context so that readers are aware the information is not based on evidence.
I think this was a rather important point which the ABC decided to gloss over.
There is much more to say on this, but I am currently at a conference which has been going for 12 hrs so far today and I haven’t had dinner yet. I’ll get back to this later.
Thanks to Ken and Carol for the tip-off to this poster. I’ve annotated it for the ABC just so they can understand.
To: Audience & Consumer Affairs
From: Rachael Dunlop
Subject: ABC Science HPV story
Date: 14/10/11 17:20
Below is the result of your feedback form. It was submitted by Rachael Dunlop
ABC program: ABC Science
Response required: true
Date of program: 131011
Contact type: Complaint
Subject: ABC Science HPV story
Comments: Yesterday ABC Science online published an article questioning the safety of the HPV vaccine.
The PhD student interviewed is a well known anti-vaccine campaigner who is affiliated with the Australian Vaccination Network.
The AVN was investigated by the HCCC in 2010 who issued a public warning about their website here
In short: The Commission?s investigation established that the AVN website:
• provides information that is solely anti-vaccination
• contains information that is incorrect and misleading
• quotes selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous.
Indeed the ABC issued a warning to staff in July 2010 stating that “it’s vital that programs provide adequate context to ensure listeners clearly understand the AVN is a lobby group”.
Why were the affiliations of Wilyman not made clear? A declaration should have been published stating she is an anti-vaccine lobbyist.
Perhaps a better headline for this story would have been “Evidence for HPV vaccination questioned by anti-vaccine campaigner”. That this anti-vaccine nonsense was published on an ABC science website is a disgrace.
Network – ABC Online
RecipientName – Audience & Consumer Affairs
Referer – Complaint
My comments in bold (more comments to come)
Dear Ms Dunlop
That’s Dr to you thanks
Thank you for your emails regarding the ABC Science story ‘Evidence for HPV vaccination questioned’, published on 13 October.
In accordance with the ABC’s complaint handling procedures, your correspondence was referred to Audience & Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC. The role of Audience & Consumer Affairs is to investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards (available here: http://abc.net.au/corp/pubs/edpols.htm).
Yeah, thanks for that, but that was where I sent my email you dolts. See
To: Audience & Consumer Affairs
From: Rachael Dunlop
Subject: ABC Science HPV story
Date: 14/10/11 17:20
I also want to add here that our initial complaints were made on Twitter to @ABCScience and the editor of the latter, @ScienceNewsGeek (Darren Osborne).
I did this (a copy of my email to Darren can be found here), I also made a direct complaint to Audience and Consumer Affairs which is addressed in this post.
Contrary to what Darren said about “a few days” I did not hear back regarding my direct email to him. I tweeted to him a few days later to enquire about the status of my direct complaint and was told that apparently all complaints had now been sent on. This was despite the fact that I had already complained to ABC Audience Liaison. I received this (unsatisfactory) response from Darren when enquiring further about this;
Anyway, on with the “defence” of this nonsense by Audience and Consumer Affairs.
I understand you believe the story should have disclosed the affiliations of Judy Wilyman, one of the interviewees whose views it reported, and that she is an “anti-vaccine lobbyist”.
In addition, I understand you believe it was irresponsible and disgraceful for the story to report her views.
Taking my comments out of context much? Yeah I see what you did there clever Consumer Affairs Peeps.
In context, I said presenting her “anti-vaccine nonsense” as if it were science with no disclaimer to indicate she has an anti-vax agenda was “totally irresponsible” and “absolutely disgraceful” particularly in the context of a recent resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases. I think I made this quite clear.
Judy Wilyman can say what she likes when it presented as opinion but you presented it as science when it was a purely a grab bag of anti-vax canards thinly disguised as science.
This was clear as day to anyone who has done their research, which apparently ABC Science has not (and is not willing to do so, beyond asking Judy Wilyman herself – see below).
Oh wait! But someone in the comments has. They Googled “Judy Wilyman” and “Meryl Dorey”and got a link to an Australian Vaccination Network blog post describing when they gave talks together. Actually the same link I provided you in my original complaint. Did you not see it?
The ABC Editorial Policies do not contain a specific standard requiring disclosure of information about interviewees.
Maybe not, but there was this memo which YOU distributed to YOUR own staff in July 2010 following the public warning about the AVN issued by the HCCC
However, the manner in which factual content – including information about interviewees – is presented is subject to the accuracy standards set out in section 2 of the Editorial Policies:
“2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
This was kinda my point – you didn’t do this
2.2 Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience. In some cases, this may require appropriate labels or other explanatory information.”
^^^ ummmm this?
In light of your concerns, Audience & Consumer Affairs has reviewed the story, considered information provided by ABC Innovation (the division responsible for the ABC Science website), and assessed whether these editorial standards were met in the presentation of information about Ms Wilyman.
Ms Wilyman was described in the story as someone “who is completing a PhD on the Australian government’s vaccination policy at the University of Wollongong” and “who has a Master of Science in population health”. These descriptions were accurate. As well as quoting from and paraphrasing Ms Wilyman’s views, the story included a direct link to the paper in which her views were outlined in detail.
I note your view that Ms Wilyman is an anti-vaccine campaigner and is affiliated with the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN). Audience & Consumer Affairs has found no evidence indicating that Ms Wilyman has particular affiliations which needed to be disclosed in the story in order for readers to make their own judgements about her claims. We have found no evidence indicating that Ms Wilyman is a member of the AVN, and ABC Innovation has advised that Ms Wilyman has denied being a member of or having any affiliation with this group. (translation – are you anti-vaccination? No? Okay then, thanks!)
In our view, readers were provided with sufficient information about Ms Wilyman to form their own conclusions, and the manner in which she was presented was not materially misleading.
While we are satisfied that the relevant editorial standards were met, please be assured that your comments about Ms Wilyman and the AVN, and your view that it was irresponsible for ABC Science to report her view…
Again, it was irresponsible to report her views without context and since when has science been about “views” and not evidence. ABC Science – WE DON’T NEED NO STICKIN’ SCIENCE!111),
…have been noted and conveyed to ABC Innovation management. Thank you for bringing your concerns to the ABC’s attention.
ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs
Do some stinkin’ research ABC. Cause this nonsense make ABC Science seem like an oxymoron.
It’s been a busy week. Enjoy some Friday lols
From the ever dangerous and delusional Homeopathy Plus! who would be funny if they were a Poe (they’re not). For the complete crazy go here.
BTW, the reason I’ve had a busy week was because of a post on Mamamia which went well a little bit mental. I been kept busy responding to comments. So far I’ve been called a liar at least three times, usually by people hiding behind anonymous handles. Brave eh? Thanks so much to everyone else who has jumped in to help me.
Mind you Mia Freedman came out today and slapped the anti-vaxers down with this comment.
Anti-vaxers using dirty tactics? Who’d have thunk it…
I did a pre-record for next week’s Mamamia TV with her today.
Also on the panel was Sam de Brito, Sarah McDonald, the head of GetUp! and the editor of Cosmospolitan Magazine (sorry, I fail to remember their names). You can watch it on Foxtel next Friday at 21:15 or on the Mamamia website after it’s aired.
Enjoy your weekend!
5 October 2011 | Media release | Pharmacy Guild of Australia
Gold Cross endorsement of Blackmores Companions range withdrawn
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia and Blackmores have agreed that the Gold Cross endorsement of the Blackmores Companions range of complementary medicines will be withdrawn.
The mutual decision has been taken in view of the strong level of public concern about the proposal, based on some media reporting of the endorsement which was ill-informed and inflammatory.
The last thing the Guild would ever want to do is deplete the credibility of community pharmacists, or damage the trust in which they are held by Australians. That trust and confidence is of paramount importance to the Guild and to our Members.
The Gold Cross endorsement arrangement with Blackmores was entered in good faith, with absolutely no intention of undermining the professionalism and integrity of articipating pharmacists. There is not now and never would be any direction from the Guild for pharmacists to be involved in unprofessional, unethical or clinically unsound conduct. The idea that community pharmacists would take part in commercial “upselling” without regard to their professional standards is offensive to our profession and rejected by the Guild.
However, perceptions are very important, and it is overwhelmingly clear that the public perception of this endorsement was damaging to the reputation of community pharmacy. Both the public, and sections of the broader pharmacy industry expressed strong concerns about the proposal.
The Guild has listened to these concerns and accepts – mutually with Blackmores – that the best course in all the circumstances is to withdraw the endorsement arrangement. The Guild regrets any damage done to the image of community pharmacy and will do everything possible to ensure the public maintain their trust in community pharmacists as the custodians of medicines and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
The National President of the Guild, Kos Sclavos, said: “We entered this arrangement in good faith, but we have now agreed with Blackmores that the furore that has been created is doing damage, and must be dealt with before it further damages community pharmacists and the patients they serve. The only alternative is to cancel the endorsement, and this has been done. I add my personal apologies for any distress this has caused to pharmacists.”
Gold Cross, a fully owned subsidiary of the Guild, had agreed to endorse a range of Blackmores products, which meant that the range of four Companions products would have the Guild’s Gold Cross on their packaging.
Additionally, an optional prompt containing clinical information for the patient to consider in relation to one product of the Companions range was to be available through the dispensary IT programs, on a pilot basis. The software pilot was not intended to commence until at least November, and will now not proceed.
Blackmores products are well-established, and marketed by one of the best known and respected names in evidence-based complementary medicine. Many doctors, pharmacists and other health professionals make recommendations for these types of products frequently.
Blackmores developed this range of four to be available exclusively through pharmacies so that consumers would always obtain the appropriate information and advice.
Contrary to some media reports, there was never any compulsion whatsoever on pharmacists to sell these products, nor was there any direct incentive to any pharmacist to sell them. At all times, community pharmacists would continue to be free – and indeed expected – to exercise their professional and clinical judgement in relation to these products.
Media inquiries: Greg Turnbull 0412 910 261
Pharmacy Guild & Blackmores – do you want fries with your prescription?
One wonders if pharmacists have given up on science-based medicine altogether.
I mean most of them already stock homeopathy and woo like ear candles and holographic wrist bands, a lot have in-residence naturopaths and iridologists. But now there’s yet another way to rip off consumers by selling them stuff they don’t need, this time when they’re trying to get a prescription filled*.
It has just been announced that the Pharmacy Guild and Blackmores have joined forces to upsell you Blackmores supplements when filling a prescription. It’s all explained in the video below but basically now when you go to a pharmacist to get a script, a computer programme will match your medication to a Blackmores product, then the pharmacist will attempt to upsell you, by saying you need it if you’re taking that medication.
What a sweet deal between the Pharmacy Guild – the organisation who essentially manage the business side of pharmacies – and what a great little earner for Blackmores. The only people who are in line to get ripped off in this partnership are the consumers who will likely get sold expensive and unnecessary supplements. As Dr Ginni says in the video below, it’s the equivalent of saying “do you want fries with that?”.
It pains me to think that pharmacists exploit their status as one of Australia’s most trusted professions by doing crap like this. Do they really care about their patients anymore
or are they only interested in lining their back pockets? (The previous statement was made in frustration. Thanks to @pakili1987 for pointing out that this will not translate into a boon for individual pharmacists. It’s a ruling made by the Guild and many of them fervently disagree with it).
And they’ve really picked their timing on this haven’t they. Are they hoping we wouldn’t remember the recent TGA audit of CAM which found ninety percent of complementary medicines didn’t comply with regulations? Out of 31 selected for random audit;
• 22 were found to have manufacturing and/or quality issues
• 20 medicines had labelling issues or breaches which may mislead consumers
• 14 did not have adequate evidence to substantiate claims made about the medicines
That so many products failed to even satisfy quality or manufacturing standards has led for calls by the TGA to label supplements with “untested”. And why not. Consumers have a right to know they’re buying something that probably does nothing and in some case may even be harmful.
According to The Age;
“Obtaining evidence of efficacy of listed complementary medicines has been a difficult issue,” the audit report said.
“While most products are safe, if often ineffective, Australian research last year identified 39 reports of adverse events associated with such products, including four deaths over the previous two years.”
“Official inaction on the efficacy issue has been blamed on the Government’s reluctance to pay for tighter policing of the remedies, but also on pressure from industry leaders, including, Marcus Blackmore who rejects the disclaimer idea.
As for the Pharmacy Guild, never mind that our products don’t comply with TGA rules for safety and manufacturing, let’s gets our white coated “trusted” friends to push ‘em on consumers anyway! What the hey! BUY OUR SHIT!
I remember one of the first things I ever did when becoming an active skeptic was sit with Richard Saunders and write an open letter to the pharmacists of Australia asking them to stop selling quackery. That was three years ago and instead of things getting better they only seem to be getting worse.
Well done Pharmacy Guild of Australia for taking the piss out of consumers and bringing your “trusted” profession into disrepute again. Shame on you.
*BTW I am uncertain this is a brand new idea. I’ve certainly had pharmacy staff attempt to upsell me supplements when being prescribed antibiotics but it only happened once and it was a long time ago. I presume this new deal means the upsell will now be exclusively Blackmores – what I don’t know is if means it will be more common place.
QUICK UPDATE: From an article in Fairfax this morning.
“He said it was the first time the Guild’s computer system, which is used by about 70 per cent of members, would prompt pharmacists to discuss complementary medicines with patients. The system has been used to alert pharmacists to potential drug interactions or medication compliance issues.”
What a dirty money grabbing exercise this is. Worse than I previously thought.
The TGA gets flipped the bird. Again.
I know I bang on about the TGA a lot, but today I received another reason to be eternally frustrated with the Aussie drug regulator.
UPDATE: I was informed last night that the TGA has listed 13 dodgy devices on the ARTG in the past week. Seven are holographic devices, five are ‘energy patches’ and another is a TENS device. Amongst the “energy patches” are Lifewave, (yes those make-shit-up, nanotechnology homeopathic pieces of gauze) and holographic energy bracelets, (see Power Balance) called CieAura.
Regular readers would know by now that the process of getting a product listed on the ARTG is based on an honesty system where sponsors type in their product, select the ingredients from a pre-approved list, pay a fee (< $1000) and bing! Get an official looking L number for their product and a listing on the official government list of medical devices. I can’t say this often enough (and perhaps I should, given that I’m probably tipping sponsors off to ways around the TGA) but you don’t need to provide evidence up front. You just have to say you possess it.
That CieAura would make it onto the ARTG is just embarrassing given that they’re just a copy of PowerBalance who were chased out of Australia earlier this year by the ACCC (the TGA did play a role). And Lifewave? You only need to Google them to find links to scam websites and other dubious activities. Plus, they are homeopathic (so there’s nothing in them) and they are non-transdermal (so they don’t transfer anything into your system) so what exactly do they do then? Precisely.
Fortunately, there has been some good news this morning about this debacle. I’ve been informed that The Lifewave patches have been cancelled from the ARTG and the CieAura holographic bracelets are under investigation. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime let’s continue to play whack-a-mole with the TGA, mischievous sponsors and the TGA. Cause until the legislation is changed, this process will continue unabated.
An article from Australian Doctor described how a complaint against the makers of Nurofen – an ibuprofen based pain killer – were directed to stop claiming their product could “go to the site of pain”.
According to the article:
Reckitt Benckiser Australia Pty Ltd was ordered by the TGA’s complaints resolution panel to withdraw a television advertisement for Nurofen that claimed the product “targeted relief from pain” and “goes straight to the source of pain”.
However in a statement, Reckitt Benckiser said it did not agree with a number of the sanctions imposed by the TGA panel and therefore,
Nurofen advises that consumers will continue to see the familiar branding of the Nurofen target and messages of Nurofen working at the site of pain. This branding includes TGA approved claims on packs that Nurofen provides targeted relief from pain.
Of course Reckitt Benckiser are by no means the first company to essentially flip the bird and say “get stuffed we’ll do what we want” to the TGA. Indeed, today’s statement follows a damning audit of the TGA’s management of complementary and alternative therapies released recently, which essentially described the TGA as having no teeth to enforce rulings against companies who do the wrong thing. Mick Vagg has covered some of the details here.
The audit came after a review of a random sample of listed products – “listed” meaning supplements, vitamins, (some) homeopathic preparations and other products classified as “low risk” including 31 types of ear candles, which found over ninety percent of products breached TGA guidelines. This review was from 2009/2010 and the one 5 years prior to this found over seventy five percent of products breached guidelines.
Out of the 31 products which were selected for the 2009/10 review, only 3 were found to fully comply (I’ve blogged about this previously here). Of the rest, 22 were found to have manufacturing and/or quality issues, 20 had labelling issues such as non-compliance with labelling requirements and/or breaches which may mislead consumers, 12 included incomplete and/or inappropriate information, and 14 did not have adequate evidence to substantiate claims made about the medicines.
Let’s go over that again.
• 22 were found to have manufacturing and/or quality issues
• 20 medicines had labelling issues or breaches which may mislead consumers
• 14 did not have adequate evidence to substantiate claims made about the medicines
When it comes to consumer protection this is a pretty poor report for the TGA.
As a result of these failures, a significant number of products were removed from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).
It’s worth noting however that Nurofen is a registered drug, not a listed one (for the difference see my post here) so stricter rules apply when it comes to regulation of what’s in it and whether it works. With AUST L (listed) drugs, for example, companies or “sponsors” are not required to present evidence of safety and efficacy before they are rubber-stamped for sale by the government. However AUST R (registered) drugs – of which Nurofen is one – are.
Indeed AUST L drugs are considered low risk by the TGA, so have a soft-touch system of registration. To apply for an official number you go online, select from a list of pre-approved ingredients, describe what your product does, state you have evidence for your claims in your possession (but no need to produce it!) pay a fee and voila! Bob’s your uncle.
The fact that most consumers don’t know this was the basis for the recent call to label CAM in Australia with the disclaimer “This product has not been tested”. You can imagine how this went down with the industry.
However, advertising rules for L and R drugs are essentially the same – basically you can’t make claims which you can’t substantiate and if you do, the TGA can order you to remove them. Whether this be from a website – as has happened several times now with Homeopathy Plus! – or a television commercial, as is the case for Nurofen.
Once a complaint about a product is received (and the TGA relies on consumers to make complaints as they are not pro-actively seeking products which breach guidelines), the TGA will preside over it and if it’s upheld, direct the company to remove the offending material and/or publish a disclaimer. But, as has been known for some time and was also highlighted in the recent audit and on Lateline, approximately thirty percent of companies ignore these sanctions. And they can, because the TGA has never in its history enforced them. Ever.
From the audit:
Due to the very low financial penalties currently available (a maximum of $6,600 for individuals and $33,000 for corporations) for advertising offences in the Act and other investigative priorities for the TGA, it is not cost-effective for the TGA to initiate a formal investigation of an advertising breach with a view to preparing a brief of evidence for consideration of prosecution by the Director of Prosecution.
It has never been cost-effective for the TGA to initiate a formal investigation of an advertising breach with a view to preparing a brief of evidence.
In other words, the cost of prosecuting a company outweighs the fine, so it’s not worth it and it’s never been done. This of course makes the TGA the laughing stock of drug manufacturers. If you read between the lines of the Nurofen press release you can see it loud and clear:
Nurofen advises that consumers will continue to see the familiar branding of the Nurofen target and messages of Nurofen working at the site of pain…
Well of course they will. I mean $33,000 is a pittance for a large Pharma company anyway. It’s laughable to think this would be a deterrent to making some claims that might not be “quite right” but sound pretty good in marketing terms.
Homeopathy Plus! also declined to comply for similar reasons, saying they didn’t agree with the TGA’s findings that homeopathic immunisation is ineffective against polio, meningococcal, cholera, whooping cough and other serious diseases. They’ve since gone onto claim homeopathy can cure breast cancer, treat meningococcal disease and radiation poisoning. Jumped. The. Shark.
To go back to the TGA’s findings about Reckitt Benckiser, the complaints resolution panel found that;
reasonable consumers … would conclude that the active components of the product travelled specifically to areas of the body affected by pain — in this instance, the part of the head affected by a headache
Which I think is a fair call. But this is not how pain killers work. To say they are “targeted” is just nonsense.
Yet, this is not the first time Nurofen have been called out for shonky advertising. Indeed last year they were honoured with a 2010 Choice Shonky Award for a very similar thing;
From the Choice website;
Nurofen has … a range of caplets for migraine, back, tension headache and period pain. Yet a closer look at the ingredients shows they’re identical from product to product. So does the back pain version somehow magically go straight to your back – and only your back – as soon as you’ve swallowed it? Could you, say, choose to treat only your back pain while keeping your headache? The answers are no, no and definitely no.
As long as the TGA has no teeth to enforce dodgy claims and advertising breaches I expect we’ll see this type of behaviour continue. And even if they were to fine companies for breaches, 33,000 or 6,600 bucks is a pittance to most drug companies – whether CAM or science-based. There seems little deterrent to stop when there’s money to be made and no-one’s gonna stop you anyway.
In my opinion this is about consumer protection and if the TGA fails to do that, then I wonder what good they’re doing at all.