UK Health Centre: Misleading information about osteopathy – a second Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) complaint

Rulings - ASA I CAP_ UK Health Centre - https___www.asa.org.uk_codes-and-rI have previously highlighted the many misleading claims about complementary and alternative medicine on the UK Health Centre website. The website is owned by Core Health Ltd and they provide misleading information about osteopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal remedies. The information they provide is misleading the general public and has the potential to cause people to take unsuitable treatments. In the interest of public safety I therefore reported UK Health Centre to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and focused on their claims relating to osteopathy in the first instance. That complaint was “informally resolved” but rather than addressing their misleading claims, Core Health Ltd actually added more conditions to the list of those that they claim osteopathy can treat. I therefore raised a second complaint to the ASA. This complaint was also “informally resolved” in January 2018. However, Core Health have still failed to address their misleading advertising.

The website has been changed in response to this second complaint with some claims being removed but also some new ones being added. The UK Health Centre website continues to make misleading claims about osteopathy as a treatment for a wide range of medical conditions including:

  • Whiplash
  • Asthma and chest problems
  • Long term illness
  • Stress
  • IBS
  • Infections and illness
  • Improving the immune system
  • Increasing the efficiency of nerve supply
  • Low energy
  • Dysmenorrhoea (period pains)
  • Recovery from childbirth
  • Common infant problems (including colic, sleep problems)
  • Monitoring baby’s growth and development
  • Improving cognitive function
  • Visual and hearing impairment

In this latest update they have removed the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Glue ear
  • Insomnia

However, this is not an improvement as they have added the following misleading claims in their place:

  • Improve blood flow
  • Reduce heart attack risk
  • Reduce risk of headaches
  • Increase bloody supply to the brain
  • Increase response time and feeling of “wellness”
  • Reduce side effects of drugs

Osteopathy hasn’t actually been shown to be effective for any of the above conditions.

As well as making misleading claims about specific health conditions the UK Health Centre website includes other inaccurate information. Of particular concern are things like this:

“Your GP may have suggested that you visit an osteopath. This is common for people who suffer from chronic symptoms including back pain, shoulder pain, migraines etc. Your GP may also refer you to an osteopath if you are pregnant or have just given birth (especially if your birth was particularly traumatic or your baby is experiencing problems sleeping or appears agitated).” I certainly hope that GPs are not suggesting that people visit an osteopath. There is little or no evidence that osteopathy provides benefit for any condition and GPs ought to be recommending evidence based treatments. There is absolutely no evidence that birth “trauma” causes any problems in babies. This is something that is claimed by some chiropractors and osteopaths but actually isn’t backed up by evidence and indicates the lack of even a basic understanding of paediatrics within these two professions. There is no reason to ever take a baby to an osteopath (or chiropractor). None.

Worryingly, osteopathy is not the only area where the UK Health Centre website makes misleading claims. For instance, they say that acupuncture can be beneficial for people with cancer including the nausea associated with chemotherapy and the anxiety and pain from the cancer itself. There is no evidence that acupuncture is effective for any of these things.

In spite of 2 complaints to the ASA, Core Health has failed to correct their misleading claims. As well as highlighting a problem with Core Health as an organisation, this also further highlights the ongoing problem with the osteopathy profession. It is now almost 3 years since the ASA issued clear guidance to osteopaths on the conditions they may advertise to treat. The General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) has also made it clear that osteopaths should be treating in an evidence based manner. It’s clear that some osteopaths are still willing to go against regulatory guidelines and continue to treat these conditions even though it isn’t in the patient’s interest to do so.

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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.

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!