After a month of patiently waiting for a response from Ben Bradshaw to a letter I wrote regarding the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (OfQuack), I received a letter from Laurent Vaic, Correspondence Officer for Department of Health.
My original letter can be found here. After some pleasantries, the letter begins in earnest:
In your letter you ask about the efficacy of treatments. I should explain that the CNHC does not promote the efficacy of the therapies it represents. The question of whether or not they work is for those who choose to use the therapies to decide. Professional regulation, whether statutory or in this case, voluntary, is about protecting the public, not about the efficacy of the therapies involved. Registration will mean that a practitioner has met certain entry standards (for instance, has an accredited qualification) and subscribes to a set of professional standards. In this way, the public will have the reassurance that any registered practitioner they choose meets these criteria and that practitioners would be subject to fitness to practise procedures should they behave inappropriately.
In my letter, I asked "How can the CNHC provide protection without knowledge of efficacy?". DoH is stating that it is up to the customer to decide whether the treatment works, and separates 'protecting the public' from 'treatment efficacy'. Remember that the mission of the CNHC is to "support the use of complementary and natural healthcare as a uniquely positive, safe and effective experience." Effective, but with no interest in efficacy. Yes, I know, I had to read again as well.
Personally, I would consider 'protecting the public' to cover stopping quacks from teaching that a urine-press placed on the neck is a suitable treatment for thyroid cancer, but apparently that's fine, providing they don't touch you up at the same time.
The question I posed hasn't been answered. Back to the letter.
You also mention the minutes of a meeting of the Federal Regulatory Board of the CNHC held on 20 November 2008. Officials have contacted the CNHC following your letter to gain an understanding of the statement in the that meeting to which you refer.And indeed, I can only refer to it, as those (assumed) same officials removed the link from the CNHC webpage specifically for ... em ... putting the minutes on. Furthermore, it is my understanding that the Board meets once a quarter, so we are missing two sets of minutes. A quick quote from the CNHC Missions and Values page:
At all times CNHC will...lead clearly and responsibly, inspiring trust through integrity, transparency and equity.Transparency is important, but seemingly not in Quackville.
I understand from the CNHC that a board member suggested the possibility of using digital stories as a means of illustrating the positive side of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) professional regulation. The suggestion was that such stories could utilise people who use CAMs and who recognise the value of regulation, as well as CAM practitioners. The board member concerned told the board that digital stories could be used as part of reflective practice and, as such, may have a place in ongoing professional development. It was suggested that board members might want to look at the website of Pilgrim Projects since this company specialises in 'humanising healthcare' and that Pilgrim Projects' Patient Voices programme contains a selection of the stories the company has made in a variety of contexts.
Unfortunately, I don't speak bureacratese very well, so a chunk of the above paragraph left me slightly bewildered. Reflective practice, anyone? Digital stories? Do people really speak like that?
I understand that the intention was to present this advice in the context described so that the board would gain a better insight into the kind of work that has been done and to ascertain whether they thought this form of 'storytelling' was appropriate for the CNHC to use at some time in the future. I further understand that these were preliminary discussions only and that no decisions were either asked for or made. Unfortunately, the minutes of the board meeting of 20 November 2008 were placed on the CNHC's website without having been approved by the board. The CNHC recognises that potential inaccurate representations of the debate could do considerable damage to the reputation of the CNHC's Board member and that of Patient Voices, neither of which was its intention.
Mistakes have been made, and so minutes will be edited in future to ensure this doesn't happen again.
The last part of the letter provides contact information for CNHC should I require further clarification of the minutes. Actually, the actual minutes would be a start, but as I said above, they have disappeared from the website.
No response on why the CNHC regards its mission as "to support the use of complementary and natural healthcare as a uniquely positive, safe and effective experience".
What happens if someone complains? From the CNHC's own document on Complaints, the CNHC complaint process is not designed to be punitive, with the maximum power of the Complaints procedure being that a practitioner can be removed from the register. Bear in mind it is a voluntary register.
I've already shown above that they are not great at keeping to their own standards. In addition, they have already had a legal chill from the British Standards Institute for hijacking the 'kitemark', which they have had to remove from the CNHC website. Alan H at Think Humanism has also demonstrated a personal data conflict on the CNHC site; from the CNHC site on 'Your Privacy', it states:
The Published Register(My bold)
CNHC will make part of your register entry available to any enquirer as part of the published register.
The public can inspect the following information on the online register:
* Your full name
* Your profession or practice discipline
* Your approximate work location
* Your registration number
* Any restrictions imposed on your registration
Your home address, contact details, date of birth and other data are not available to the public.
Compare that to this page, which is a search of quacktitioners whose surname is Harmer (unfortunate name for a 'health' practitioner, but no matter):
Search by name
You searched for harmer
44 Moneybrannon Road, Aghadowey, County Londonderry BT51 4AA Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Telephone: 07799 471235 Telephone: 07799 471235
Disciplines Massage Therapy Status Registered until 17/02/2010
I'm pretty sure this isn't the last of my OfQuack squawking, although it is tempting to forget about the whole thing as a waste of time, but I *really* begrudge tax-money being used to fund what appears to be a complete waste of energy with no obvious benefits to quacks or punters.
If anyone else can help interpret the letter (and suggest suitable responses - I'll be formulating over the next few days), please feel free to leave your thoughts and ideas below.