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Tim Harford to receive the 2012 HealthWatch Award on behalf of the BBC More or Less team for their clear, honest and entertaining way of educating the public about the meaning of numbers.

The HealthWatch Annual General Meeting wil be held on Tuesday 23rd October at the Medical Society of London, when Tim Harford will receive the HealthWatch Award and address the audience. All are welcome; click here for details of the meeting and the booking form for the dinner afterwards.


HealthWatch response to the Department of Health consultation on developing our NHS care objectives

Click here to see the HealthWatch response and click here to see the Department of Health consultation document



Trading standards officers have failed to prosecute traders making fake health claims, says a report in the Medico-Legal Journal.

"It makes a total mockery of the law, " said Les Rose, a clinical science consultant and co-author of the report which is based on 39 complaints sent to Trading Standards officers. Not one prosecution arose from the complaints over claims that red seaweed reduced the risk of breast cancer; that shark cartilage boosted the immune system and that a five day Detox Plan "helped to flush away toxins" and "stimulated the body's natural detoxifying systems”.

Hard selling of pills and potions that claim to “flush away toxins”, relieve arthritis, boost the immune system, protect against diseases, and even cure cancer, is everywhere today, especially on websites. Health professionals and consumer organisations had hoped that the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) (the UK implementation of EU Directive 2005/29/EC, the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive) would offer protection by requiring that traders “Falsely claiming that a product is able to cure illnesses, dysfunction or malformations” must back up their claims with evidence.

The reality, when tested by supporters of the charity HealthWatch, was disappointing. The results of their study appear in the current issue of the Medico-Legal Journal.1
In an carefully designed study, the first of its kind, three widely available products with no credible evidence of effectiveness were selected (see below). Twelve volunteers submitted 39 complaints to Consumer Direct (the UK portal for the regulator Trading Standards) regarding false health claims, and 36 complaints were followed up for a maximum of 4.8 months.
Boots Detox 5-day Plan (available online and in retail outlets) “help flush away toxins and stimulate your body’s natural detoxifying systems leaving you purified (sic) and revitilised (sic)”
World Wide Shopping Mall’s Health Aid Shark Cartilage (available online) “Boost the immune system. Reduce inflammation. Act as a pain reliever. Help with the symptoms of inflamed joints and cartilage. Protect the body against harmful diseases” . Bohemia Style’s Easy Diet Red Seaweed Dietary Supplement (available online) “Red Seaweed helps reduce your risk of breast cancer. Helps lower hypertension. Prevents hypothyroidism”

It took an average of 13 days from submission of complaint to Consumer Direct to acknowledgement by the relevant Trading Standards office – and 22% of complaints had no response from Trading Standards at all. By the end of the study only one trader had stopped advertising their product on the Internet. Another, Boots, had amended their website – although this may have been for reasons unrelated to the study – but did not stop all health claims. Another downgraded their health claims, but continued their core claim. Trading Standards failed to respond to any complaints with clear action to correct claims.

Not one prosecution was brought under CPRs for false health claims as a result of the complaints.

“By failing to prosecute traders for making false health claims, Trading Standards officers misinterpret the currently available law. This means that the UK government has failed to comply with the EU law under the Directive 2005/29/EC. This justifies a formal complaint to the European Commission,” says Les Rose. He continued: “It appears that the CPRs are a retrograde step, because we are aware of numerous prosecutions for false health claims under the old Trade Descriptions Act. What we really need is for far more consumers to challenge health claims and press their MPs for enforcement action”.

Of the three traders investigated in the study, Bohemia Style did not respond to any attempts at contact. World Wide Shopping Mall declined to comment on the findings of the study. Boots issued the following statement:
“As the UK's leading pharmacy-led health and beauty retailer, Boots UK always aims to listen to its customers' wants and needs and, as a result of this, the Boots Detox Plan was discontinued.”

Press enquiries: Les Rose on 01722 322945.

*Rose LB, Posadzki P, Ernst E. Spurious Claims for Health-care Products: An Experimental Approach to Evaluating Current UK Legislation and its Implementation. Medico-Legal Journal 2011; 00 (0): 1–6. DOI: 10.1258/mlj.2011.011034

Access the paper at:



Minutes of the 2011 AGM are available here

Minuntes of previous AGMs are available with links from the committee page



Prize winners for the 2011 student competition for critical appraisal of clinical research protocols are as follows:

Medical students:

First prize: Derek Ho, Imperial College

runners up

Jennifer Johnson, Warwick University
Mark Loughrey,Penisula Medical School
Asad Salman Mahmood, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry
Alastair Rankin, Glasgow University
Benjamin David Williams, Peninsula Medical School

Nursing and Midwifery students

Highly commended: Sarah-Jane Bateman, Nottingham University

Three students were able to attend the AGM on October 18th to receive their prizes in person. From left to right they are: Derek Ho, Jennifer Johnson and Mark Loughrey.



Copyright © 2012 HealthWatch. This page was updated on September 24, 2012