Last week, the UK Charity Commission announced a consultation “to inform the review of [its] approach to registering organisations that promote complementary and alternative therapies.”

This consultation is the result of an ongoing attack by a small but vocal group of media savvy, connected UK skeptics who come together under the umbrella of an organisation called the Good Thinking Society.

The non-profit is itself a charity registered as “Good Thinking” (note omission of “Society” in registered name). The organisation is chaired by physicist and long-time enemy of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), Simon Singh PhD. Its stated mission is purportedly “to encourage curious minds and promote rational enquiry”.  In our view, the Good Thinking Society espouses principles that may be better described as ‘new fundamentalism’ and tends to be subscribed to by those of closed and uncurious mind who oppose rational, scientific enquiry.

In September 2016, lawyers instructed by the Good Thinking Society, called on the UK government’s Charity Commission to revoke the charitable status of charities that advocate homeopathy.

This call came after the Good Thinking Society had brought together a group of 11 doctors who, last June, told the Charity Commission it had “failed in its duty to protect the public” by not removing charities that advocated homeopathy.

The skeptic’s call is based on the requirement, under charities law (section 4), that there is a “public benefit”. By incorrectly claiming an absence of scientific evidence (ANH feature ‘Beware Scientists Onward March‘) and fuelled by their anti-CAM dogma, UK skeptics have been at the forefront of attacks against the practice and teaching of homeopathy.

Charity Commission threatened

The Good Thinking Society wasn’t about to give up.  The Charity Commission’s announcement of its consultation last week comes after it was threatened with a judicial review.

Rather than being limited just to homeopathy, the consultation now aims to look at CAM therapies more generally. The Charity Commission already has in place limited guidance on registering organisations which advocate CAM and points readers to its decision to not register the Soteria Network, a “network of people in the UK promoting the development of drug-free and minimum medication therapeutic environments for people experiencing ‘psychosis’ or extreme states.”

The scope of the consultation is now extremely broad and affects a very wide range of charities that includes those providing education in the field of CAM, which includes nutritional therapy, and those providing supportive and palliative care, many within the National Health Service (NHS).

The drivers

Apart from the Good Thinking Society, there is a deeper and associated network of skeptics who prefer these days to call themselves ‘rationalists’ who are aligned in their drive to attack natural health and prevent use of many scientifically plausible claims about them. These interests come together under another charity, called HealthWatch UK, not to be confused with Healthwatch, the “consumer champion for health and social care”.

HealthWatch UK includes among its patrons, high-flying skeptic Lord Dick Taverne. Blogger Alan Henness, also director of the Nightingale Collaboration, maintains the HealthWatch UK website. In 2012, Healthwatch undertook an investigation of spurious claims,  published in the Medico-Legal Journal  led by clinical scientist, Les Rose, who declares pharmaceutical and biomedical companies among his clients and co-authored by none other than the ‘master trickster’ and CAM-skeptic, Professor Edzard Ernst.

Views sought by the Commission

In its consultation, the Charity Commission makes clear that its role is not to determine whether CAM therapies are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or whether or not CAM services should or shouldn’t be made available to the public.  Instead the Commission is looking for views on its conduct of the ‘legal test’ for organisations advocating CAM therapies that require demonstration of a purpose that is of “public benefit”. The purposes of most charities in the CAM field will relate to the legal definitions of purpose set out in charity law (section 3) that include: the advancement of health or the saving of lives, the advancement of education, the advancement of science or the relief of those in need because of age, ill-health or disability.

In assessing whether or not an organisation legally meets the requirements for being a charity, the Charity Commission also weighs up the benefit to the public versus the risk of harm. It requires a positive balance. Ironically, this weighing up of risk and benefit is a very tough ask. It’s one of the main requirements for pharmaceutical licensing that costs pharma companies millions to have just a single product licensed, yet even then, given the difference in ‘currencies’ between risk and benefit, it’s a very subjective process sometimes laced with bias and corruption.

With the consultation deadline approaching on midday 20 May 2017, we’re calling on as many UK organisations, associations and practitioners to respond to this consultation. We’re in the process of liaising with different organisations and individuals and collecting views that will be shared.

 

CALL TO ACTION

  • Find the Charity Commission consultation here and review the 8-page document
  • For those for whom the consultation is relevant, please contact ANH International by email at [email protected] (subject Charity Commission consultation) should you wish to discuss your consultation response.
  • Please forward this email widely to those in your circles who work in the UK in the CAM field so that they might respond.
  • Please consider a donation to help support our work to help the CAM and natural health sectors in the UK, and well beyond. Your support is the life-blood of all our work at ANH-Intl.

Comments

  1. Does the Charity Commission have to inform its stakeholders it is undertaking this consultation? So far the only notification is coming from the ANH for which we are grateful.

    1. I don’t know Heather, but we will be contacting as many people as possible to make them aware of this consultation over the coming days.

      Warm Regards
      Melissa

  2. There’s none so blind as those who will not see. We no longer believe that the earth is at the centre of the universe or that the touch of the king can cure tuberculosis. The time is long overdue for people to abandon irrational nonsense like Traditional Chinese Medicine (bear bile cures, tiger bones, etc) and homeopathic so-called malaria preventatives.

    1. There’s nothing new under the sun. This has been a historical issue and those who force their views on others are always the arrogant know-it-alls who align with idol worship. They hate truth and will not care to seriously question their own “truths”, especially if they don’t have to take responsibility for their health or profit from the “rationalist view”. Any self-respecting human will respect others’ views, especially if people are experiencing greater health and well-being using those modalities.

    2. Thought police. Must throw them into the volcano or the gods will be angry. Primitive control based on the declaration that all different thought is bad. Nothing irrational about that. Reasonless reason would prescribe quinolone drugs which paralyze and kill. Restrict the reporting of such terrorist tactics and suppress the reality that there is no known antidote to the drugs being prescribed and the outcome is agony. Then discourage the reporting of the horrific side effects.
      So called gram negative bacteria preventives. Hmm very hmmm

  3. Therapies which have not been proven to work or been proven not to work are called “alternative medicine.” Therapies which have been proven to work are called “medicine.” Instead of acting indignant over Simon’s efforts to prevent these unproven or disproven so-called “therapies” (i.e. scams to relieve the sick of their money and derail their seeking actual medical treatment by qualified medical professionals), why not trying on some science for a change and accepting the fact that sCAM is delusional, wishful thinking? Now there’s an idea.

    However, this article has inspired me. To add some thoughts in support of Simon’s efforts. And I will do this based on the scientific evidence and the literature, which I have considerable college education in, and have extensively read, respectively.

    1. Thank you for your response. As you might expect, we don’t agree with your sentiments. Do you agree that of the 3000 conventional medical treatments evaluated by BMJ Clinical Evidence, that 89% should be withdrawn, given that only 11% have been found to be beneficial [http://clinicalevidence.bmj.com/x/set/static/cms/efficacy-categorisations.html}? We don’t, and consider the low rate of proven beneficial treatments is at least in part down to limitations of the methodologies used (primarily RCTs). Edzard Ernst, who was received warmly into your skeptic ranks, declared in 2010 in his article entitled “In self-defence” published in Pulse Today, that 53% of his findings on so-called CAM therapies had been positive. That conflicts with your own assertion. Bearing in mind that’s the result of using classical RCT methods that are not appropriate for multi-modality approaches common in the practice of CAM. We’re totally happy to rely on the science, but we prefer a scientific approach that befits the original definition of evidence-based medicine that includes clinical experience (JAMA 1992; 268(17): 2420-5) than one that relies exclusively on RCT evidence and which may be susceptible to biases (BMC Med. 2015; 13:200). We wish you well in your own submission – variety is indeed the spice of life – and we look forward to the Charity Commission’s evaluation of all information received as a result of its consultation.

  4. Not so long ago Singh did a hit piece on vitamin supplementation that seemed to come right out of the mouth of big pharma, whose 3.5T$ annual Sickness Industry in US alone needs most to be sick, weakly, overweight, stressed and later medicated for life. He must have a decent subsidy to keep up his diatribe against healthy people.. (not those ‘healthy eating’ ones following the deliberate disinformation Mainstream with their fake, RDAs, food groups, etc).

    1. Do your homework. Singh is a wealthy man – he doesn’t need to be subsidised by big pharma or anyone else to challenge the promotion of quackery and the suggestion that he does smacks of desperation.

  5. Just as there is a right to free speech, freedom of information, protest and democracy , it seems only reasonable that members of the public have the right to choose exactly what they do with and for their bodies. Given there is access to the advantages and disadvantages of various pharmaceuticals and treatments on the Internet they can easily be well informed.

    If people choose to take responsibility for their own healthcare, weigh up the pros and cons including GP input, it would be outrageous if they are denied such decisions in today’s modern world. Live and let live is a cliche but a useful one providing it does not include the right to murder and other heinous crimes.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment Susan, we appreciate your support and agree with your comments. People should have the ability to choose how they look after their health as well as having access to all the information they need to make informed choices to support that decision.

      Warm Regards
      Melissa

  6. I don’t think that you can pin all the blame for this on the Good Thinking Society (GTS). There have been a number of cases where trustees and employees of a charity have enriched themselves either by taking money directly from the charity or used the charity to promote their own commercial interests or even just pure hubris. This is down to poor governance more than anything else. It’s a more general problem than just the CAM sector.

    The Charities Act 2011 is worth reading in full, Section 3 in particular as stated in the article. Nowhere it in does it mention promoting the commercial interests of any group which is why funding of charities, especially patient interest groups, is problematic and the trustees must try to maintain a policy of neutrality in terms of who funds versus who they serve. It can be a very difficult balance to maintain if you have a single large funder, be it a commercial organisation or a looser grouping.

    Charitable status in the UK gives tax benefits and a certain kudos but it perfectly possible to run a not-for-profit organisation without being a charity.

    1. We agree with your points, other than it remains our view that the Good Thinking Society has been the key stimulus for the current consultation given the legal threats that preceded it. Money laundering and fraud in charities is a not an uncommon problem for charities in general, but of course this consultation is less about governance and more about verifying public benefit in the case of charities advocating CAM. It’s no bad thing it’s happening and we’re confident as long as the sector responds with due consideration of the brief, all should be fine. Also agree you can run a non-profit without charitable status, for example as a non-profit company limited by guarantee, which is exactly how ANH-Intl operates.

      1. It’s something the Good Thinking Society got involved with after concerns had been raised for several years about certain CAM charities, in particular the Homeopathy Action Trust which amongst other things funds projects that attempt to treat HIV/AIDS with homeopathy in Africa. There have been alarming stories about some of these projects such as advising patients not to take ARVs, the desire to carry out unethical medical trials, the use of radionic machines, etc… The Charity Commission had been asked at various points prior to the threat of legal action if they could review the internal guidelines in the light of this.

        1. Yes but they are stories. No one has made an assessment of the level of harm or integration with conventional medicine so you don’t really know the truth of the situation. Its tabloid style scaremongering, used to promote an ideology, to over-emphasise the harm. Charities in Africa bring humanitarian benefits to the communities such as community centres, bicycles, water aid as well as compassion, care and attention not to mention the placebo effect if you can’t accept the remedies have some action.

  7. What they fail to discuss is the key priority of CAM practitioners to do no harm. We are constantly and consistently looking to treat the cause versus the actual illness. They also fail to address or research the fact that current practitioners and CAM schools are continuously addressing contraindications so we ensure the individual gets the best care possible to help their healing process. This also seems to fail to discuss the overwhelming amount of orthodox medication that is over prescribed and doubled up with other meds which cause them to get worse. The toxic effect those medications can have on their bodies frightening. I find it equally shocking to see they are not as concerned with those on palliative care as it doesn’t seem to matter so much. Why can’t these commissions look for ways to align rather than fight. Our bodies are amazing and fascinating things that sometimes need help from both standpoints.

  8. We need freedom of choice. As conventional medicine couldn’t do anything to help my problems I tried homoeopathy which has been very helpful indeed. Since then I have trained as a homoeopath & helped many others in the same way. Most people who turn to complementary therapies have already tried the conventional route to no avail. Many have been damaged by allopathic treatments.

  9. Is right, there are none so blind that cannot see. However, it is those that oppose complementary medicines on the grounds of lack of scientific evidence, that are sightless. They cling on tightly to their narrow belief systems displaying the same irrationality that they levy against the religious. If they were to turn their own scientific scalpel on the biochemical model, they would find it strewn with inconsistencies, falsehoods, and mistaken beliefs. It is not the great cure that so many believe it is. It is the newest medicine on the planet and still in it’s infancy. It is an experiment in progress. It will take several more generations of experimentation before it is hewn into a proper system of medicine that can ensure safety. Those practising this form of medicine swear on the Hippocratic oath to do no harm, yet hundreds of thousands of people each year suffer disease or die from iatrogenic causes. The biochemical model can save lives and bring immense relief to suffering, but it is not yet a safe form of medicine. How can those who advocate it’s use as the only scientifically proven effective and safe medicine continue to do so in light of annual iatrogenic disease and deaths and medical disasters such as thalidomide? Complementary medicines, used by millions across the globe, have a far superior safety record, yet are continually accused (unscientifically) of being unsafe with, it would seem, those with an axe to grind.
    I should like to point out I am not against biochemical medicine, merely highlighting that it is not the ideal medical system that so many revere it to be.
    Turning our attention to complementary medicines we unfortunately find many simple errors made by those who try to analyse them scientifically. They start from a simple bias; that they understand the medical system they are going to investigate. Invariably they get this completely wrong, assuming it works in a similar way to the biochemical model. Their starting position is thus incorrect and unscientific. Next, they use the holy grail of science the RTC model. This, as Melissa rightly points out, is erroneous. Because they have made the first great error, they then compound it with a second, and on this basis they draw (incorrect) conclusions. The RTC model is entirely unsuitable to examine complementary medicine; it is akin to investigating cellular life with a telescope turned upside down. There are many in the scientific and medical community who question its use as the correct scientific tool for biochemical medicine. It is outdated, yet those critics of complementary medicine refuse to acknowledge this. We in complementary medicine welcome scientific scrutiny, but only if the right tools are used. There are many other models that are better suited to such investigation.
    There will always be charlatans practicing in both these fields of medicine, but the great majority of those that work in the field of complementary medicine desire to get their patients well. They remain true and committed to their work because they, and their patients see the beneficial results. Just as most of those in orthodox medicine do. We work to the same end. It is time to stop feuding, to recognise the limitations and benefits of both types of medicine and to use them for the benefit of all. They are the best we have at present, and our energies would be better used, to serve the public and honest medical professionals, in weeding out those who do not practise with integrity.

  10. Most CAM practitioners study in the complementary field because they are sceptical about orthodox medicine. Either they themselves or members of their family have been badly let down by allopathic medicine . No one has the right to tell anyone what treatment they must receive .

  11. To clarify for some, medical herbalists in the UK are “qualified practitioners” degree educated which also includes clinical, and diagnostic and physiological areas as well as herbal materia medica. Not as declared by some as trying to fill their pockets, which is an absolute insult.
    In addition, millions are spent by pharma companies finding plants and herbs to monopolise and standardise into these named conventional drugs, what logical sense is there to state an alternative like herbal medicine does not work at all.
    What on earth do you think people did before doctors surgeries?
    Conventional practitioners and Alternative should work together for the best outcome of their clients. To say one would choose a career in this field, only due to prior disappointment with allopathic/conventional healthcare is without doubt one of the many narrow minded comments I have read above.
    The disdain from other health practitioners is obvious and you all should dig deeper within yourselves and ask yourselves why?
    I suppose all the 1000 of years of documentation from various cultures, which is both empirical and actual, is worthless because some privileged man in a suit says so.

  12. I am just amazed by these sceptics. Will they be sceptical enough to look at “conventional” health charities and what they do with money and what they propose? Shall we make them responsible for any effect of conventional treatment? Let’s say I take paracetamol for headache and after three hours I still have headache, so how does it come it did not do what it is suppose to do (by the logic of sceptics, this treatment is bullshit)? What about writing them letter every time when conventional treatment did not keep the promise?

    1. That would certainly be interesting to see what the response would be Jolanta!

      Warm regards
      Melissa

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *