In what may have some unregistered health care practitioners fumbling for the edit button, a new bill was proposed in parliament yesterday which if passed could see a significant tightening of the industry.

Proposed by Health Minister Jillian Skinner, if introduced the changes will enable consumers to complain to the government not only about health information that has adversely affected their health but also information that they deem is likely to cause harm.

The proposal comes off the back of the Australian Vaccination Network suing the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission in the Supreme Court in 2011. The litigation challenged a public warning issued by the HCCC in response to a complaint made by a member of the public about misleading health information distributed by the AVN.

The HCCC deemed the AVN’s website “provided information that is solely anti-vaccination, contains information that is incorrect and misleading and quotes selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous” and as a result directed them to publish a disclaimer indicating their information is purely anti-vaccination and should not be construed as medical advice. When the AVN refused, the HCCC issued a public warning.

But in fact, the HCCC legislation does not have the scope to accept complaints from a “member of the public” – it only covers complaints from those whose health has been adversely effected as a direct result of advice from an unregistered health practitioner. So the AVN challenged the HCCC public warning and won.

Essentially what the court required was evidence in the form of a stat dec or similar, of someone taking medical advice from the AVN, not vaccinating themselves, then contracting a vaccine preventable disease. In reality, this information is notoriously hard to come by, largely because people are too embarrassed to admit to being tricked (or perhaps they are dead). As the HCCC were unable to produce such evidence, the loophole was jumped and the public warning quashed. If the changes proposed yesterday are introduced however, this loophole will be well and truly closed.

In parliament the Hon Jillian Skinner cited the AVN versus HCCC case and said

“…(under the current law) “..There must be a specific case where an individual client is affected, thereby limiting the capacity of the Health Care Complaints Commission to act in the public interest.”

The proposed changes will say,

“The bill therefore amends section 7 of the Health Care Complaints Act to make clear that a complaint can be made against a health service if the health service affects, or is likely to affect, the clinical management or care of an individual client.”

In the age of the Internet where unregulated health information abounds online these changes would be welcomed if not a little overdue. The current HCCC act was originally drafted in 1993 and the health care landscape has changed significantly since then.

So if introduced, how is this likely to effect unregistered health practitioners such as the aromatherapists, homeopaths, nutritionists, massage therapists and iridologists? Well put simply, they’ll need to ensure their houses are in order. Any claims that are not evidence based and are deemed likely to cause harm by a member of the public will be in the firing line. And ironically this will include claims made by the AVN.

So by suing the HCCC, the AVN have instigated legislation change that opens them up for further prosecution. And even more ironically, ex-president Meryl Dorey has recently started copy/pasting a disclaimer into every piece of correspondence she sends (including Facebook comments), similar to the one the HCCC originally directed her to adopt.

It says, “This is not intended to be considered medical or legal advice. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of either Meryl Dorey or the Australian Vaccination Network, Inc. (AVN)”. (Or this is my opinion but it is not necessarily my opinion).

So we appear to have come full circle, all for the sake of a discrete disclaimer. And it’s all because of the AVN. I’m sure your fellow alt medders will thank you.

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