Children’s Charity “The Sunflower Trust” in breach of advertising guidelines due to misleading treatment claims

Rulings - ASA I CAP_ Sunflower Trust - https___www.asa.org.uk_codes-and-rI have previously written about the children’s charity The Sunflower Trust. This is a charity that claims to treat a whole range of health conditions in children and has as its president an osteopath who was removed from the register of practicing osteopaths for unacceptable professional conduct. I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the misleading treatment claims and the ASA also challenged whether the adverts discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. The Sunflower Trust responded by saying that they would remove the misleading claims and the complaint was therefore “informally resolved”. Rather than complying with the guidelines as they claimed they were going to do, The Sunflower Trust has actually created more new content that is in breach of the guidelines.

Here is an example where the Sunflower Trust claims that their treatment helped with dyspraxia and dyslexia. In this story, Justin’s mother says “I soon realised that I needed outside help if I was going to help him with his education. He has dyspraxia and suspected dyslexia, so he finds everything twice as hard as other children.” For some reason that isn’t explained in the story, rather than following the normal routes of talking to the SENCO (Special educational needs co-ordinator) at her son’s school or taking him to the GP she decided to go to The Sunflower Trust instead. He was given a pre-programme assessment which “showed his musculoskeletal to be of particular concern as his body appeared to be completely out of alignment”. Now, there is no such thing as someone’s body being “out of alignment”. This is an imaginary concept used by some chiropractors and osteopaths to justify the treatments they provide but in reality it doesn’t actually exist at all. There is also no evidence whatsoever that “re-aligning” someone’s body or any other aspect of the “treatment” included in the Sunflower Programme can provide any benefit for someone with dyspraxia or dyslexia.

Here is another example where they claim they can treat autism. According to this story, Helen’s parents were told by an Educational Psychologist to “put her in a special school and forget about her and concentrate on her older sister.” If the parents were really told this then that is truly awful and should be dealt with via a formal complaint about the Educational Psychologist. I’m somewhat sceptical that this is actually what was said, however. In recent years, the range of services and support available for children with special needs have improved significantly and there are some really excellent special schools. Sending a child to a special needs school is therefore (when appropriate) giving them the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential rather than somewhere to “forget” about them. During the assessment provided by The Sunflower Trust the parents were told that things were “in the wrong place”. This is frightening thing to tell parents about their child and what parent given that message wouldn’t be scared into continuing with “treatment” in a desperate attempt to correct these problems? No professional should ever use fear to encourage someone to undertake their treatments. The treatment provided apparently consisted of manipulation of the “head, neck, spine and pelvis”. Presumably the therapist (Clive) told the parents that he was re-aligning these things through this treatment. This is completely false and shows a startling lack of understanding of the way the human body works. Manipulation does not “re-align” anything regardless of what some osteopaths and chiropractors claim. There is no evidence that any treatment provided by an osteopath or chiropractor or any other aspect of the Sunflower Programme provides any benefit for autism.

Charities like this one are preying on desperate people by misleading them into taking completely unsuitable “treatments” when they should instead be following the advice of their own doctor. This charity clearly fails the “public benefit” test as rather than being in the public interest it’s actually harmful to members of the public. It’s high time that the Charity Commission put a stop to charities like this and I hope that the consultation prompted by the Good Thinking Society will result in removal of charity status for this and similar charities. That would certainly be the right thing to do in the interest of protecting the public.

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Charity that “treats” children run by osteopath who was struck off

On 16th January 2018 the osteopath Mark Mathews was removed from the register of practicing osteopaths for unacceptable professional conduct. That same osteopath is the founder and president of The Sunflower Trust, a charity that claims to be able to treat a whole range of health conditions in children. In this post I look more closely at this charity and the claims that it makes.

The list of conditions that the charity claims its programme can treat is mind boggling and appears to be a list of all of the common childhood conditions that they could think of. Here is a list of just some of the things they claim to treat:

  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Anxiety
  • Asperger syndrome
  • Autism
  • Auditory processing problems
  • Behavioural difficulties
  • Depression
  • Learning difficulties
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Emotional problems
  • Fatigue / CFS
  • Global developmental delay
  • Headaches
  • Memory problems
  • Skin problems
  • Social skills
  • Speech and language problems
  • Stomach aches
  • Stress

They’re basically suggesting that if you have a child then they can do something to help them. What evidence is there that the Sunflower Programme can do any of these things? As far as I can tell there is none whatsoever. Their claims appear to be entirely unsubstantiated.

This is a good opportunity to highlight a useful “rule of thumb” for spotting misleading treatment claims. Any treatment that claims to be effective for a wide range of unrelated conditions probably isn’t effective for any of them. Why is that? The human body is very complex and the medical conditions that we experience are also often complex and have a whole range of different causes. For instance, asthma is completely different to anxiety. Both of these have totally different causes and symptoms and the treatment is therefore also completely different. It’s simply not reasonable to expect a single treatment to be effective for a wide range of conditions. When you see a treatment, like the Sunflower Programme, that makes these sorts of claims it’s highly likely that there simply isn’t evidence to back them up.

When you look at the practitioners who work at the charity it makes for interesting reading. This is what the charity website says “Each Sunflower Practitioner is a practising Osteopath, registered with the iO, as well as being a qualified Master of Applied Kinesiology, Master of Neurolinguistic Programming (or an equivalent qualification such as a teacher) and fully trained in the Sunflower Programme.” So they’re combining osteopathy, applied kinesiology and neurolinguistic programming (NLP) together in this programme. All of these specialities are based on pseudoscientific beliefs and have little or no evidence of effectiveness for any health condition. It therefore looks as though the Sunflower Programme is built on shaky foundations with no evidence to back up any of the claims being made. When you take into account that the founder and president of the charity has been removed from the register of osteopaths for unprofessional conduct (something that happens only in extreme circumstances) then it raises concerns for the health and safety of the children undertaking the Sunflower Programme. In order to try and protect members of the public from being taken in by the unsubstantiated claims being made, I have raised a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority.

Yet again this highlights the misleading claims that are so widespread within the osteopathy profession. Some osteopaths seem to believe that they can “treat anything” when actually this simply isn’t true. Whilst the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) has taken action against this particular osteopath, in response to a complaint from a patient, they have failed to tackle the widespread issue of misleading claims by many of their registrants. Unfortunately, the public are therefore not being adequately protected and this places them at risk of undertaking unsuitable and, in some cases, harmful treatments.

 

The Perrymount Clinic in breach of advertising guidelines for osteopathy for babies and children

Rulings - ASA I CAP_ Perrymount Clinic - https___www.asa.org.uk_codes-and-rThe Perrymount Clinic offers a range of different therapies including osteopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy and many others. The “treatments” they offer are mostly pseudoscientific nonsense but that hasn’t stopped them building a business on the back of them. Their website is chock-a-block full of misleading claims in an attempt to lure members of the public into taking the “treatments” they provide. Worryingly, they have a big focus on babies and children.

I complained about the clinic to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which has resulted in an “Informally resolved” complaint. There are plenty of misleading claims on their website that could be raised with the ASA. In this initial complaint, I opted to focus primarily on their claims relating to osteopathy for babies and children as this seems to be the “treatment” that they promote the most. The Perrymount Clinic promotes osteopathy as a treatment for a whole range of conditions in babies and children including:

  • Colic
  • Sleep problems in babies and toddlers
  • Breast feeding / feeding problems
  • Learning difficulties
  • Ear infections
  • Behaviour problems
  • Constipation
  • Other common baby problems

There is no evidence that osteopathy can help with any of these conditions and such claims are misleading and in breach of advertising regulations. The main “treatment” that they use is cranial osteopathy, which as I’ve said previously is pure quackery.

The Perrymount Clinic also suggests that birth is traumatic for babies and that the clinic can provide baby “checkups”. Although this is not an uncommon claim from osteopaths and chiropractors, the reality is that childbirth is not inherently traumatic for babies and does not require “treatment” to “correct” the problems it “causes”. As osteopaths are NOT medically qualified it is completely inappropriate for them to carry out “checkups” on babies. That should instead be left to someone who is medically qualified, such as a paediatrician.

Complaint Outcome

Although my complaint to the ASA has been informally resolved, it’s quite clear that the Perrymount Clinic have not addressed the issues and are continuing to make misleading claims. They seem to have made minimal changes in response to the complaint and have try to excuse their misleading advertising with a disclaimer:

Disclaimer - http___www.theperrymount.com_toddlerhelp.html

This is simply not acceptable and is not a way to get around the advertising regulations.

I can understand why this business are unwilling to modify their advertising as the way that they make money is by misleading the public. If their misleading advertising was removed they wouldn’t have much of a business left at all.

Social Media

Within my complaint I also highlighted the fact that The Perrymount Clinic make misleading claims via social media, as this also falls under ASA’s remit. This includes two Twitter accounts (@theperrymount and @calmingcolic) and on Facebook. See below for an example:

Christian Bates (@calmingcolic) Twitter 11 reasons cranial osteopathy - https___twitter.com_calmingcolic

The misleading claims on social media have also continued in spite of my complaint to the ASA.

Other Issues

Besides their claims relating to osteopathy, The Perrymount Clinic makes numerous other misleading claims. For instance, they say this:

“C-Section and antibiotic use are two of the main causes of an upset, colicky, crying baby. But perhaps more importantly they can both detrimentally affect the FUTURE health of your baby, being a trigger for eczema, asthma, food allergies and even obesity.”

What parent reading this wouldn’t feel scared about the future of their child and contact the clinic for an appointment? The reality is that these claims are pure fantasy. There is simply no evidence that C-Section or antibiotics cause any of these conditions.

Next Steps

Misleading claims in osteopathy are a widespread problem with even the professional body, The Institute of Osteopathy being found in breach of advertising guidelines. The Perrymount Clinic is one of the worst examples I’ve seen of misleading information combined with pseudoscience. It’s quite clear that they do not intend to bring their advertising in line with the guidelines so further action will be required. Watch this space!