An independent charity for science and integrity in healthcare

Please respond to the Charity Commission's consultation on CAM charities

Many charities promote or provide what is frequently referred to as 'complementary and alternative medicine', or CAM for short. This isn't an accurate term because the practices they promote or provide aren't always medicines, but it CAM can be a convenient term. What many do have in common is the lack of robust evidence for their efficacy and this sets them apart from conventional treatments.

But should such charities have the advantages and prestige of being registered charities? In the UK, charities are regulated by the Charity Commission and they have to meet certain requirements and standards, particularly with respect to 'public benefit'. There are many CAM charities that have already been granted charitable status but should they have been given this status in the first place and how should the Charity Commission decide whether any particular CAM charity establish that an organisation would have the beneficial impact necessary? How should the Charity Commission consider conflicting or inconsistent evidence?

These and other questions are part of the Charity Commission's current consultation: The use and promotion of complementary and alternative medicine: making decisions about charitable status.

This consultation was the prompted by the work done by HealthWatch Trustee Les Rose. He has written extensively on his blog about his battle with the Charity Commission and his posts there are well worth reading. Les's own response to the consultation is also published on his blog.

We know that several homeopathy trade bodies and other CAM proponents (eg 4Homeopathy, an umbrella organisation for UK homeopaths) are encouraging their members and supporters to respond to the consultation with their own particular view of what constitutes good evidence. Our members who share concerns about evidence in healthcare may like to submit their own responses.

The closing date is this Friday, 19 May 2017 and responses can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Today's Guardian carries an article by Michael Marshall of Good ThinkingShould complementary and alternative medicine charities lose their charitable status? This gives some background and further details and their own response is available on their website: Our submission to the Charity Commission’s CAM charities review

With that, Les's submission, a page on notes he's drawn up for members and the consultation document itself, we know that many of you will be able to submit a thoughtful and robust response.

If you do submit a response, it would be good to have a copy of it for our files. Please send a copy to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

New study finds trading standards close to breaking point trying to regulate misleading marketing claims on healthcare products

Ineffective and dangerous health products are being advertised to the public for serious medical conditions in breach of consumer protection regulations, while cash-strapped trading standards departments struggle to keep traders in line. A new study has confirmed that laws intended to protect vulnerable consumers against misleading health-related marketing claims are simply not being enforced.

The UK charity HealthWatch, which promotes integrity in healthcare, has just completed a two-year investigation[1] to learn what really happens when consumers blow the whistle on false claims about healthcare products. They found:

  • Pursuing a complaint is cumbersome and lengthy
  • Most complaints do not result in enforcement
  • Approaches to enforcement vary widely between trading standards offices

HealthWatch’s volunteer investigators submitted 38 complaints to trading standards via the Citizen’s Advice website about traders making misleading claims for their products online. Some were simply ineffective, such as copper bracelets for restless legs syndrome, and red jasper crystals to heal and prevent colds and flu. Others were potentially harmful – one ad was offering homeopathic remedies for deadly whooping cough or poisoning. It took up to 74 working days to get a reply – more usually around a month. Despite the volunteers pursuing their complaints for up for six months, enforcement action was ultimately only taken against two traders. In fact, the volunteers found the process so cumbersome and time-consuming that many of them withdrew from the study.

Annual funding for local trading standards services dropped from £213m in 2011 to £124m today, and the number of full-time officers has fallen by 56% over the last seven years, according to a recent report by the National Audit Office[2].

The HealthWatch investigation found that responses from trading standards were highly variable and this even extended to disagreeing as to whether an offence had been committed. Trading standards is the legal backstop to the Advertising Standards Authority[3] but, despite their statutory powers, seems not to be in a position to provide an effective regulatory function.

The complaints were made under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. All product claims complained about were clearly misleading, and had been widely marketed nationally.

The full report is available on the charity's website at https://www.healthwatch-uk.org/cpr2. The HealthWatch study is the subject of a major feature in Trading Standards Review[4].

- END -

Notes to editors

  • HealthWatch is the charity that has been promoting science and integrity in healthcare since 1991
  • Further information from www.healthwatch-uk.org
  • Media enquiries: our press office is manned continually, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via the media contact form
  • HealthWatch has no connection with “Healthwatch England”

References

  1. Rose L et al. Testing the effectiveness of consumer legislation for health-related claims. April 2017. https://www.healthwatch-uk.org/cpr2
  2. National Audit Office. Protecting consumers from scams, unfair trading and unsafe goods. December 2016. ISBN: 9781786040923. https://www.nao.org.uk/report/protecting-consumers-from-scams-unfair-trading-and-unsafe-goods/
  3. Advertising Standards Authority. Trading Standards https://www.asa.org.uk/resource/trading-standards.html
  4. Bailey C. Mind the cracks. Trading Standards Review. April 2017. pp18-23.

The 2017 HealthWatch student prize competition for critical appraisal of clinical research protocols is now open.

There are two first prizes of £500 each, one for medical and dental students and one for students of nursing, midwifery and professions allied to medicine. Up to 5 runner-up prizes of £100 will be awarded in each class. Prize winners will be invited to attend the HealthWatch Annual General Meeting in October to receive their prizes.

The competition consists of four hypothetical research protocols: your task is to rank the protocols in order from that most likely to provide a reliable answer to the stated aims of the trial to that least likely to do so. You then have to explain your ranking in no more than 600 words.

Please pass on to any students, organisations, colleges, universities, etc you think might be interested.

Entries must be received by 30 June 2017.

Find out more here.

Members, friends, supporters and interested readers - the deadline for the Spring issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter will soon be here.

As of this year the HealthWatch Newsletter in pdf format is openly accessible online immediately on publication so that our contributors can benefit from as wide an audience as possible, and may share their work freely.

For our Spring issue it would be great to have material from some new contributors. Opinions, book reviews, an insider's take on a news story perhaps ...

Please send your articles by Monday 20th March for target publication date during April. For more information and details of how to submit please see our Information for Authors page.

As part of our vision for taking HealthWatch forward, we plan to concentrate our efforts on two or three projects or areas of investigation in depth. This could involve research, investigation, taking part in consultation ... anything that will forward HealthWatch's aims of promoting integrity in healthcare. Projects currently under way or completed have included the highlighting of concerns over Public Health England's age extension trial of mammography screening, the student experience of CAM teaching in medical schools1 and two investigations into the efficacy of the Consumer Protection Regulations as applied to health claims (one published2 and one in the final stages of data analysis).

Among HealthWatch members and committee there is a vast pool of skills, experience and enthusiasm. We know that we have many supporters who would like the opportunity to get more directly involved. So let's have your ideas! Please complete our very short Focus questionnaire to suggest areas that you think we should investigate. Just click here.

References

1. Ho D et al. Focus Altern Complement Ther 2013;18(4):176–81 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/fct.12059/abstract

2. Rose LB et al. Med Leg J 2012;80(1):13–8 http://dx.doi.org/10.1258/mlj.2011.011034 

The Winter 2016-17 issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter is now online - in full! The HealthWatch Newsletter is now free to read and download.

Features in this issue:

  • NEWS FEATURE Are the WHO guilty of woo? An out-of-date World Health Organization report is being widely cited as evidence for the efficacy of needling, and Australia’s award-winning Loretta Marron calls on the WHO to set the record straight for the sake of the poorest and most vulnerable.
  • HEALTHWATCH AWARD WINNER Peter Gotzsche is tired of being labelled controversial – the Cochrane scientist and author who compares big pharma to organized crime just wants to tell the truth about medicine. He pulls no punches in his talk to the HealthWatch AGM, reported here.
  • BOOK REVIEW broadcaster and journalist Nick Ross shares a taste of Edzard Ernst’s new book on homeopathy
  • plus Chairman's report from latest AGM, Student Prizewinners and news updates

Join us by becoming a member of HealthWatch and a supporter of science and integrity in healthcare. HealthWatch members will continue to receive their personal printed copy of the newsletter if they have opted to do so.

Notes to Editors:

HealthWatch is the charity that has been promoting science and integrity in healthcare since 1991.

Further information from: www.healthwatch-uk.org

Media enquiries: our press office is manned continually, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via the media contact form online.

HealthWatch has no connection with “Healthwatch England”.

There could soon be an end to compulsory mammography screening of women in Uruguay, thanks to one woman’s battle.

A bill presented at the Congress on Thursday, 1st December aims to ensure that women are asked for their informed consent to undergo screening for breast cancer and are not penalised if they refuse the test.

The news is the latest in a long-running campaign by Ana Rosengurtt, a 55-year-old computer engineer. Earlier this year she won a 4-year legal battle for the right to be excluded from the compulsory test. A Montevideo court found that the government had neglected its obligation to obtain patients’ informed consent. But Ana’s victory this summer applied to her only. The new law, if adopted, will give the same freedom to all Uruguayan women.

Until the new law is passed, though, Uruguayan working women aged 50-69* will continue to be compelled by law to undergo mammography screening for breast cancer every 2 years, to qualify for the “carné de salud” (health card) that permits them to work, hold a driver’s licence, study at university. Women will still have to submit to compulsory PAP smear, blood and urine tests every two years. Uruguay has the highest cancer mortality in Latin America, and the 10th highest worldwide according to the WHO. Screening has been compulsory since 2006 and the policy is largely accepted, as awareness of the possible risks is low.

Ana says, "Thank you very much to all of you who had supported my fight all these years.

"Now the law will be discussed at the congress. I expect a swift approval as it is based on a ruling by the court. So, the ruling that initially applied only to me, will be a law for every woman soon. Not only justice, also congress will have endorsed my right."

Mammography screening for breast cancer has questionable benefits and considerable harms. HealthWatch believes it is unethical to impose screening without the woman’s informed consent.

*the age range changed this year, previously it was 40-59.

For more information:
 
BMJ, 8 Dec 2016

Montevideo Portal, 30 Nov 2016

The Congress website shows the registration of the bill (labelled “606/0”)

(For articles in Spanish - if using Chrome browser, right-click on the text to have the article translated into English)

Scientific American, 17 Oct 2015

BMJ, 21 Mar 2013

The highlights of the Autumn 2016 issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter are now online! In our Highlights you can read our news stories in full, plus tasters of the features:

  • NEWS Breast screening victory in Uruguay, and more news on science and integrity from home and abroad
  • NEWS FEATURE Les Rose has exposed charities that promote unproven and useless remedies to the sick and vulnerable. This is the latest on his public campaign, and – finally – news of possible action from the Charities Commission
  • ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS Evidence needed! For effective therapies for disabled children. Christopher Morris from PenCRU on a resource that promotes quality information for affected families
  • MEDIA Is “balance” always necessary in news reporting? An extract from the latest book by awardwinning author and journalist John Illman
  • MEETING REPORT Students are the future of HealthWatch. John Kirwan and Debra Bick on the inspiration generated by our healthcare student workshop

The full text, published version of the HealthWatch Newsletter is available to HealthWatch members only, who receive it direct by e-mail or post as requested. Join us by becoming a member of HealthWatch and a supporter of science and integrity in medicine.

All HealthWatch newsletter content becomes fully open access 12 months after original publication – in the most recent open access issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter (Autumn 2015) you can now read Colin Brewer’s thoughtful feature on the government’s plans to reduce suicides; nutrition expert David Bender on internet promises of eternal youth; and Nick Ross presents a controversial view on medical confidentiality.

Notes to Editors:
HealthWatch is the charity that has been promoting science and integrity in medicine since 1991
Media enquiries: please contact our press office, which is manned continually, using the media contact form
Further information from: www.healthwatch-uk.org
HealthWatch has no connection with the organisation “Healthwatch England”

Journalists often ask Peter Gøtzsche why he’s always looking for controversy. “I tell them, I'm not. It comes looking for me,” he replies. The Danish physician, medical researcher and leader of the Nordic Cochrane Centre received the 2016 HealthWatch Award at the charity's 28th Annual General Meeting with a compelling presentation titled: ‘Is it controversial to tell the truth about health care?’

“If I see something that seems to me wrong, I dig very deep to find the truth. I expose skeletons and sometimes the people who buried them can get very angry,” he said. This fearlessly outspoken defender of integrity in medicine went on to talk of biased trials, regulatory processes compromised by conflicts of interest, dangers of psychiatric drugs, and the folly of government investment in health checks and screening tests that simply don't work. A report of his talk will appear in the Winter issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter.

GoetzscheRossPrize2Here, Peter Gøtzsche (left) receives his award from HealthWatch's President - the journalist, author and broadcaster Nick Ross (right) (Photo: Mandy Payne)

The HealthWatch Award is presented annually to an individual who has made significant steps either in medical research or in improving the public’s understanding of health issues by clarifying complicated and often misunderstood medical matters for the general public. Peter Gøtzsche qualifies on both counts - through his painstaking meta-analyses of drug data and also for his very readable books including Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy and Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma has Corrupted Healthcare.

He became the award's 24th recipient at the 2016 Annual General Meeting of HealthWatch on Thursday 20th October 2016 at the Medical Society of London.

Media enquiries: please contact our press office using the media contact form which is monitored continually.

Note to Editors: HealthWatch, a registered charity established in 1991, promotes science and integrity in medicine: the assessment and testing of all medical and nutritional treatments, products and procedures; consumer protection in regard to all forms of health care; the highest standards of education and evidence-based health care by practitioners; better understanding by the public and the media of the importance of application of evidence from robust clinical trials. Further information from www.healthwatch-uk.org (n.b. HealthWatch has no connection with the organisation “Healthwatch England”).

We are honoured to host a short celebration of the life of John Garrow in London on Thursday 20th October. An eminent medical nutritionist with a passion for evidence, Professor Garrow was a founding member of the charity HealthWatch which promotes science and integrity in medicine. He was several-times chairman of HealthWatch and a man who fought for evidence with passion and style.

Following his death in June this year, his family have kindly agreed to hold this memorial toast before the HealthWatch Annual General Meeting. His friends and colleagues from all spheres of his life (not just HealthWatch) are warmly invited to attend.

Please join us with the Garrow family to toast the life of John Garrow at 5:30pm on Thursday 20th October 2016 at the Medical Society of London, 11 Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, London W1G 9EB (nearest Underground stations are Bond St or Oxford Circus). To help us with preparations, please confirm your attendance by registering here.

There is no compulsion to remain for the 28th Annual General Meeting of HealthWatch which begins shortly afterwards, although you are most welcome if you wish to do so. The evening will include presentation of awards to winners of the HealthWatch Student Competition, of which John Garrow was a generous supporter, and to the fearlessly outspoken Cochrane scientist Dr Peter Gøtzsche, a choice of whom he would surely have approved. There is more information about the AGM and other HealthWatch events planned for the day here.

There is never enough time at the HealthWatch Annual General Meeting for members to discuss what they want to achieve, and how they can help to forward our aims. So this time we’ve arranged a proper workshop, which we’ve named “Whither HealthWatch?” to take place on the afternoon of the HealthWatch AGM. Aim? To review the aims and activities of HealthWatch, and help to generate a new vision for our charity’s future.

The programme will start with brief introductions to five areas of activity and what HealthWatch can do: to debunk myths; for student outreach; to influence public policy; to go forward with our publications; to influence clinical practice. We will then break up into separate groups to discuss these areas of activity, and after tea each group will report back to the meeting as a whole, followed by discussion of what should be our priorities.

“Whither HealthWatch?” will run from at 2:30pm until 5:00pm on Thursday 20th October 2016 at the Medical Society of London, 11 Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, London W1G 9EB (nearest Underground stations are Bond St or Oxford Circus). Members, friends and supporters of HealthWatch may take part. Places are limited, apply for yours here.

All are most welcome to remain for the 28th Annual General Meeting of HealthWatch which begins shortly afterwards. More information about the other HealthWatch events planned for the day can be found here.

Peter Gøtzsche needs no introduction to those who share the aims of HealthWatch. The Danish physician, medical researcher and leader of the Nordic Cochrane Centre will receive the 2016 HealthWatch Award at the 28th HealthWatch Annual General Meeting.

Gøtzsche, who helped found the Cochrane Collaboration for independent, quality evidence in medicine, is a fearlessly outspoken defender of integrity in medicine. 

He has controversially and powerfully argued that there is no justification for the use of mammography to screen for breast cancer. His many publications include his 2012 book Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy and, the following year, Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma has Corrupted Healthcare - a searing exposé of industry bias in clinical trials. He has revealed data errors in meta-analyses, harms in psychiatric drugs, questioned the editorial independence of medical journals, and highlighted medical ghostwriting as scientific misconduct. His research includes the finding that placebo has surprisingly little effect.

The 28th Annual General meeting of HealthWatch will be held on Thursday 20th October 2016 at the Medical Society of London, 11 Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, London W1G 9EB (nearest Underground stations are Bond St or Oxford Circus). As usual, the meeting is free and open to all, although only members may vote. There is more information about this and other HealthWatch events planned for AGM day here.

 

The highlights of the Summer 2016 issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter are now online! In this issue:

  • Dr Roger Fisken alerted the MHRA to a device making impossible medical claims. But is his complaint being investigated or ignored? His case raises questions about lack of transparency of the work of this public body (full text)
  • John Illman, winner of a 2016 Medical Journalists’ Association award, explains why anecdotes in the media are so much more powerful than statistics (intro only)
  • A tribute to the recently-late John Garrow, professor of human nutrition, leading obesity expert, and a passionate campaigner for evidence (full text)
    Can foods really boost the immune system? David Bender examines the claims and finds some truths, and some whoppers! (intro only)
  • News of the 2016 HealthWatch Debate which addressed the motion: “This house believes sugar is harmful so all sugary foods should be taxed, not just soft drinks” (intro only)
  • The secrets of complementary and alternative are revealed—by magician Richard Rawlins; and the memoirs of Beulah Bewley, an inspirational woman who qualified as a doctor in the 1950’s and went on to become a Dame of the British Empire for services to women doctors (intro only)
  • Medical journalist and author Caroline Richmond celebrates the continuing fall in homeopathy prescriptions (intro only)

The full text, published version of the HealthWatch Newsletter with all of these articles is available to HealthWatch members only. Join us by becoming a member of HealthWatch and a supporter of science and integrity in medicine. Non-members can read the highlights of this latest newsletter including two open access features, here. All HealthWatch newsletter content becomes fully open access 12 months after original publication.

Media enquiries: please contact our PRESS OFFICE using the media contact form or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Note to Editors:
HealthWatch, a registered charity established in 1991, promotes science and integrity in medicine: the assessment and testing of all medical and nutritional treatments, products and procedures; consumer protection in regard to all forms of health care; the highest standards of education and evidence-based health care by practitioners; better understanding by the public and the media of the importance of application of evidence from robust clinical trials. Further information from: www.healthwatch-uk.org (n.b. HealthWatch has no connection with the organisation “Healthwatch England”).

In the latest issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter, we find out why the government's targets for reducing stillbirths are likely to fail, we learn what it was about the 1990s that made CAM so popular, and we are appalled at the possibilities for promoting misinformation in the scientific literature. And if you thought you knew about why spinach is so good for you, think again ...

The full text of the HealthWatch Newsletter with all of these articles is available to HealthWatch members only. Join us by becoming a member of HealthWatch and a supporter of science and integrity in medicine. Non-members can read the highlights of this latest newsletter online here and one open access feature "The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit" by Brian Earp, here. All HealthWatch newsletters become fully open access 12 months after original publication.

This year’s HealthWatch debate has seized another hot topic and some brilliant speakers.

This year we’re delighted to welcome back our patron the evidence-based comedian Robin Ince as chairman while our four distinguished experts debate the motion “This house believes sugar is harmful so all sugary foods should be taxed, not just soft drinks”. Audience members will be asked to vote on the proposition both before and after the debate.

Panel members:

-          Dr Aseem Malhotra, Honorary Consultant Cardiologist, Lister Hospital Stevenage, and Advisor to the National Obesity Forum

-          Professor Richard Tiffin, Professor of Applied Economics, University of Reading

-          David A Bender, Emeritus Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry, University College London

-          Dr Carwyn Rhys Hooper, Institute of Medical and Biomedical Education, St George's, University of London

Attendance is free. To guarantee your place register here.

When: Monday, 23 May 2016 from 18:30 to 20:30 (BST)

Where: King's College Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery - Waterloo Campus Frankin-Wilkins Building, 150 Stamford Street, SE1 9NH - View Map

The 2016 HealthWatch student prize competition for critical appraisal of clinical research protocols is now open.

There are two first prizes of £500 each, one for medical and dental students and one for students of nursing, midwifery and professions allied to medicine. Up to 5 runner-up prizes of £100 will be awarded in each class. Prize winners will be invited to attend the HealthWatch Annual General Meeting in October to receive their prizes.

The competition consists of four hypothetical research protocols: your task is to rank the protocols in order from that most likely to provide a reliable answer to the stated aims of the trial to that least likely to do so. You then have to explain your ranking in no more than 600 words.

Find out more here.

Entries must be received by 30 June 2016.

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