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.



Statutory regulation of osteopathy and chiropractic: Protecting the public or legitimising quackery?

In the UK, osteopaths and chiropractors are statutory regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) and General Chiropractic Council (GCC). The primary aim of the GOsC and GCC is supposed to be protection of the public. The question is, are they fulfilling this duty or not? Some osteopaths and chiropractors see statutory regulation as a “badge of honour” and use it in the promotion of their businesses. However, this is not the purpose of statutory regulation. It’s supposed to be about patient safety, not marketing.

Misleading Advertising

There are a number of examples of situations where the GOsC and GCC have failed to adequately protect the public. One example is the issue of misleading advertising. Neither the GOsC or GCC have adequately addressed the issue of misleading advertising by their registrants, with many osteopaths and chiropractors continuing to mislead the public. This includes advertisements for potentially serious health problems such as asthma or infections. Members of the public could be seriously harmed by seeing an osteopath or chiropractor for these conditions instead of a medically qualified doctor.

Although the GOsC have issued guidelines to their osteopaths, they have sent a very mixed message to them about the need to comply. For instance, they have failed to take action against osteopaths for misleading advertising instead leaving this to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They have also allowed adverts in their own “The Osteopath” magazine that offer training to osteopaths in the very things the guidelines say they shouldn’t be treating. It’s reasonable to expect that “protection of the public” should include stopping osteopaths from making bogus treatment claims. Unfortunately, the GOsC has completely failed in its duty here. Although HUNDREDS of complaints have been submitted against osteopaths for misleading advertising claims the GOsC has not (as far as I’m aware) taken action against ANY registrant for misleading claims.

In the case of the GCC, they have taken action against a registrant for misleading advertising: . The GCC gave an admonishment to the chiropractor in question. However, they decided not to provide any higher sanctions as they concluded that the chiropractor “no longer poses a risk to the public”. This sanction seems to be insufficient as the chiropractor continues to use misleading advertising. A single page on her website includes claims about childbirth being harmful to babies, C-sections creating problems in babies, spinal / cranial dysfunction in children and the influence of misaligned vertebrae on hormones: All of this is complete nonsense. It’s hard to imagine how someone who has these beliefs and is treating patients does not represent a risk to the public.

Handling of Complaints

There is another issue with the way that complaints and fitness to practice cases are handled by the GOsC and GCC. Many cases require one or more experts to provide advice on the suitability of the treatment that has been provided. However, the GOsC often uses an osteopath as an “expert” and the GCC often uses a chiropractor. This is a significant problem because osteopaths and chiropractors are NOT medically trained. If a member of the public complains that the treatment they have received was unsuitable, or even harmful, a chiropractor or osteopath is not well placed to assess whether a patient has actually suffered harm. There are also pseudoscientific beliefs that exist in both osteopathy and chiropractic. For instance, some osteopaths use cranial osteopathy and some chiropractors use craniosacral therapy. However, both of these treatments are based on a concept that doesn’t actually exist  and they have never shown evidence of effectiveness for any condition. When using an osteopath or chiropractor as an “expert” there is the potential for them to hold similar pseudoscientific beliefs. They may therefore conclude that the treatments being used are acceptable when a medically qualified professional would realise that they are complete nonsense.

It’s quite clear that the GOsC and GCC are not adequately protecting the public from the potential for harm by treatment from an osteopath or chiropractor. Instead, statutory regulation has become a marketing tool that is used to mislead the public about the suitability of the treatments offered.

An opportunity for change

The Department of Health are currently consulting on changes to the regulation of healthcare professionals, including osteopaths and chiropractors. Statutory regulation of osteopathy and chiropractic currently lends legitimacy to professions that have pseudoscientific beliefs at their core, without adequately protecting the public. This consultation is an opportunity to address this issue, to remove statutory regulation of osteopathy and chiropractic and to reserve it for those professions that are based on science. Please take the opportunity to have your say.


iO Convention 2017: Continuing to train osteopaths in conditions they are not allowed to advertise to treat (as well as other quackery)

I previously highlighted the issues with The Institute of Osteopathy’s Convention 2016 and training being provided to osteopaths in conditions they are not allowed to advertise to treat. Unbelievably, the same thing has happened a year on at the iO Convention 2017. Take for instance the session “Lymphatic treatment during pregnancy”. This workshop focuses on the “physiological changes of the liver functions” and goes on to suggest a link between “impaired lymphatic circulation” and “low back pain, headaches, nausea and constipation”. Now, nausea and constipation are conditions that osteopaths are not allowed to advertise to treat. In the case of headaches, the claims they are allowed to make are very restricted and focused only one specific type of headache: cervicogenic. Why is that? Simply because there is no evidence that the treatments provided by osteopaths are helpful for these conditions.  The training that’s being provided here is clearly in breach of the guidelines issued by the General Osteopathic Council (regulatory body for osteopathy in the UK), the Advertising Standards Authority and the Committee of Advertising Practice. What’s really puzzling is why any osteopath would think that they could help these conditions in the first place. It only takes a very basic understanding of the way the human body works to realise there is no way the treatments an osteopath can provide (manual therapy) can possibly have any effect on nausea or constipation. Maybe it’s because osteopaths aren’t actually medically trained at all and they therefore lack sufficient understanding of the way the human body works?

The next workshop at the conference was called “The portal system & natural therapeutics”. It is also focused on the liver and says “Its role in detoxification will be illustrated and how us, as osteopaths may provide suitable adjustments”. Is this actually for real? In the 21st century are osteopaths really suggesting that they can provide manual “adjustments” to affect the function of the liver? This is pure quackery. It’s quite incredible that The Institute of Osteopathy who brand themselves as “the UK’s leading professional membership organisation for registered Osteopaths” can allow this to take place. Far from providing relevant training to osteopaths, this is actually teaching them complete nonsense.

Underlying Osteopathic Principles

The convention also provides training on some of the underlying principles of osteopathy. The session “Applying the Wisdom of A.T. Still” gives some insight into how much of the early development of osteopathy and underlying osteopathic principles conflict with the way the human body actually works. The abstract for that session includes the following (emphasis mine):

Osteopathy was established upon a law of nature unexplained by science – nature’s innate tendency to express health – and therefore he argued that we need a different philosophical framework than scientific materialism for understanding the living being. A philosophy that includes science, but also acknowledges that every living cell possesses an intelligence far greater than our own reasoning faculties.”

So there you have the basis of osteopathy. It was created by someone who thought that “every living cell possesses an intelligence far greater than our own reasoning faculties”. Oh dear. How about the fact that our “reasoning faculties” are made up of these cells? It’s now easier to explain why there are so many problems with osteopathic treatment – it was invented without any understanding of science or how the human body actually works. That’s probably why osteopathy treatment is so ineffective. Even for low back pain, the “home ground” of osteopaths, it’s no longer a first-line treatment.


The Institute of Osteopathy gave out several awards during the convention. Unfortunately, they didn’t take much care over the people chosen to receive an award. For instance, the “Principal of the Year Award” was given to James Ruddick of Summertown Clinic. The Summertown Clinic provides a whole host of unproven “treatments” including cranial osteopathy, acupuncture, reflexology and homeopathy. None of these have any basis in science or evidence of effectiveness for any condition. If you dig a bit further into their website you can find a range of gems such as “Babies often greatly benefit from cranial osteopathy as it helps resolve strains from the birth process.” This is very misleading because the birth process does not result in “strains” that need to be resolved via cranial osteopathy or otherwise. The Advertising Standards Authority has already made it very clear to osteopaths that this is a misleading and unproven claim. Choosing one of the main osteopaths from this clinic for the “Principal of the Year Award” shows how deeply entrenched unproven treatments and misleading claims are in the osteopathic profession.

Yet again the iO Convention serves to highlight all that is wrong with osteopathy. If you want to be treated by someone who believes in “treatments” that have no connection with reality then go to see an osteopath. Otherwise, you’d be well advised to look elsewhere.

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

Rulings - ASA I CAP_ Perrymount Clinic - 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!

Welsh Institute of Chiropractic: Training Chiropractors to Treat Newborn Babies. Yes, really.

On 14th and 15th October 2017 the Welsh Institute of Chiropractic are providing a 1 ½ day seminar on an “Introduction to Chiropractic Neonatal Examination and Treatment”. If the suggestion of chiropractors treating newborn babies doesn’t immediately set alarm bells ringing, wait until you read more about will be taught at this seminar. This is what the advertisement says:

“This one and half day weekend seminar will mix interactive and lecture sessions and will focus on:

  • Eliciting and interpreting findings from history and clinical examination to construct a reasonable differential diagnosis.
  • Preparation of a management plan, with consideration of adequate communication to children and their parents.
  • Neonatal orthopaedic and neurological examination, looking at normal and abnormal findings, including Red Flags
  • Conditions commonly seen in Chiropractic Practice
    There will be a practical session covering chiropractic and cranio-sacral techniques suitable for newborns.”

Let’s look at each of the bullet points above in more detail.

  • Eliciting and interpreting findings from history and clinical examination to construct a reasonable differential diagnosis.” It’s important to remember that chiropractors are NOT doctors and have no medical qualification. To suggest that they can carry out a “clinical examination” and reach a “differential diagnosis” is therefore frankly ludicrous. This should only be done by a real doctor.
  • Preparation of a management plan, with consideration of adequate communication to children and their parents.” Treatments by chiropractors have not been shown to be effective for babies and children for any condition. There is also a lack of data on the safety of chiropractic treatments for babies and children. It’s therefore impossible for a chiropractor to come up with a “management plan” for this patient group.
  • “Neonatal orthopaedic and neurological examination, looking at normal and abnormal findings, including Red Flags”. Now things have become really scary! Carrying out a “neonatal orthopaedic and neurological examination” requires specialist knowledge. Chiropractors are completely unqualified to do this and should leave it a real doctor instead.
  • “Conditions commonly seen in Chiropractic Practice”. In babies and children there should be NO “conditions commonly seen in Chiropractic Practice”. Chiropractors lack the skills and knowledge to assess or safely treat babies and children. Any baby or child who is taken to a chiropractor should be immediately referred to a doctor instead.

The advert then says “There will be a practical session covering chiropractic and cranio-sacral techniques suitable for newborns.” Craniosacral (and the closely related cranial osteopathy) is a “treatment” technique for which there is no scientific basis and has never been shown to be effective for any health condition. There is an excellent description of it on Science-Based Medicine.

It’s quite that all of what’s being taught in this seminar is pseudoscientific nonsense. Others have written about the lies that chiropractors use to try to get paediatric patients. No chiropractor should be treating babies or children because none of their techniques are effective and there is a lack of safety data for their treatments. I wonder if the University of South Wales fully appreciate the dangerous quackery that they promote within the Welsh Institute of Chiropractic clinic?

Institute of Osteopathy in breach of advertising guidelines

Rulings - ASA I CAP_ - Institute of Osteopathy Institute of Osteopathy promotes itself as “the UK’s leading professional membership organisation for registered Osteopaths.” As a professional membership organisation you would expect the Institute of Osteopathy to set an example to their member osteopaths. Unfortunately, they don’t. The Good Thinking Society has conducted a long campaign to try to tackle the many misleading claims in osteopathy. Rather than setting a good example about the promotion of osteopathy, the Institute of Osteopathy’s website was clearly in breach of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) guidelines. This has resulted in a recent “Informally resolved” complaint to the ASA. Specific issues raised in the complaint include claims about treating “unsettled children” and the use of osteopathy to improve immune function and for sleep problems. Osteopathy is not effective for any of these things and the Institute of Osteopathy should have known better than to make such misleading claims. Things get worse for the Institute of Osteopathy, however. Rather than undertaking a review of their entire site and ensuring that it complies with the guidelines, they instead just corrected the specific items raised in the complaint. There are other areas of their site that don’t comply with the guidelines and they also make unsubstantiated claims on social media. They are therefore at risk of further complaints. Like much of the osteopathic profession they represent, they clearly think it’s perfectly okay to mislead patients into undertaking unsuitable treatments. It isn’t.

It’s also interesting that the Institute of Osteopathy provides guidance on their website that conflicts with that provided by the regulator (the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC)). The GOsC have made it clear to osteopaths that they need to be able to substantiate any claims they make both in their advertising and when discussing treatment options with patients. The Institute of Osteopathy have taken a different approach and state on their website that the guidance “does not restrict your clinical practice or verbal communication with your patients.” They seem to be suggesting that osteopaths can continue to mislead patients when they speak to them outside of advertising. This is clearly unacceptable and it’s not smart of the iO to provide advice that conflicts with guidance from the GOsC. The Institute of Osteopathy goes on to say “It is only by collating the experiences of osteopaths’ targeted that we are able to determine how best to defend the profession from this campaign.” It should be noted that the iO are very clearly focused on the benefit of osteopaths here. They haven’t given any consideration to patients at all, which is what this “campaign” is really all about: protecting patients from misleading treatment claims by osteopaths.


Making a complaint to the ASA

It is relatively straightforward to make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Just fill out the form on their website: The Nightingale Collaboration also have an excellent guide on how to find and challenge misleading claims: They also have specific guidance on making a complaint to the ASA:

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

Core Health Rulings - ASA I CAP_ - 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). In this initial complaint I focused on their claims relating to osteopathy. The complaint was “informally resolved” because Core Health Ltd provided the ASA with assurance that they would “remove claims that osteopathy can treat conditions outside of those the ASA has seen evidence it can assist with”. Regardless of the assurances they may have given the ASA, Core Health Ltd have definitely NOT brought their site in line with the guidelines. The UK Health Centre website continues to promote osteopathy as a treatment for a wide range of medical conditions including:

  • Whiplash
  • Asthma and chest problems
  • Diabetes
  • Long term illness
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Tiredness
  • Osteoporosis
  • IBS
  • Glue ear
  • Infections and illness
  • Improving the immune system
  • Increasing the efficiency of nerve supply
  • Insomnia
  • Low energy
  • Growing pains
  • 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

If you compare this list with the one from my previous article you can see that rather than removing the conditions that osteopaths may not advertise to treat they have actually added more!

Osteopathy as a “Preventative Treatment”

They also continue to recommend osteopathy as a “preventative treatment”. Preventative treatment is very attractive to osteopaths because it provides a way to keep patients coming back over a long period of time even if they have no current medical problems. This issue is highlighted by other authors such as Edzard Ernst . From a patient perspective, there is no reason why they should attend for preventative treatments and osteopaths are misleading them by suggesting otherwise. Let’s be really clear about this: there is ZERO evidence that osteopathy prevents anything and the only person who benefits from preventative treatments is the osteopath (and their bank balance).

Systemic Problems in UK Osteopathy

Core Health Ltd are clearly reluctant to remove their misleading advertising claims. This actually gives us an insight into the behaviour of UK osteopaths. Osteopaths should not be treating any of the conditions highlighted above because osteopathy has not been shown to be effective. If all osteopaths were complying with the regulations then there would be no incentive for Core Health Ltd to keep advertising these treatments. The fact that they are so keen to keep this misleading information on their site indicates that there must be osteopaths who are willing to carry out these treatments. Yet again this highlights the serious problems with the UK osteopathic profession. They are continuing to “treat” patients when it is entirely inappropriate for them to do so.

There is clearly a lot more for Core Health Ltd to do to bring their site in line with advertising standards for osteopathy. As I highlighted in my previous article osteopathy is only one of several areas of complementary and alternative medicine where their site makes misleading claims. Watch this space for more updates over the coming months!