Stuff that occurs to me

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Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Hoping for advertising compliance from autism-'treating' homeopaths in 2019

Homeopaths claim to treat pretty much every known human and animal complaint or disease - you can easily find a long list of named conditions on their websites. Lots of other naturopaths and other quacks also claim to treat a range of health problems, but this particular piece of activism focuses solely on homeopaths treating autism using CEASE therapy.
In 2019 I'm hoping that several UK homeopaths will be a bit more compliant with the advertising regulations when it comes to the information they share on their websites or via tweets about treating autism with CEASE therapy.

A small gang of plucky skeptic bloggers have separately and jointly asked individual homeopaths, the homeopathic society(ies), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) and Trading Standards (TS) to take action on these misleading claims. It's an uphill struggle, but the gears are now engaged and we have traction. The regulators have taken note but can they persuade homeopaths to fall in line?
An example of misleading claims can be found in this ASA adjudication against Teddington Homeopathy for making claims about CEASE and autism. Teddington Homeopathy appear to have been reluctant to make the required changes to the text on their website so they now find themselves on the ASA's non-compliant online advertisers list as of 27 August 2015.

By the end of 2018 (tomorrow!) several homeopaths who are members of the Society of Homeopaths and who offer CEASE therapy are required to bring their marketing material into compliance with (i) the SoH's code of ethics, (ii) with the ASA's guidelines (embedded within the SoH's code) and (iii) with additional requirements from the PSA. In mid-January 2019 those of us who originally raised CEASE as a problem will be looking to see if compliance has improved.

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However it's entirely possible though that even if they are compliant I/we still won't be satisfied as I think that no-one should ever be permitted to claim that they can treat anything with homeopathy. That'll be tough luck for me as this appears to be something that marketers can work their way around. I really don't think anyone should be permitted to claim that homeopathy can treat autism.

In an ideal world this is what I'd like to see (or not see) on the websites of people who've been offering CEASE treatment or homeopathic detox for autism or autistic spectrum conditions. [If you are a parent thinking about paying for this please don't].

1. There should be no mention of the acronym CEASE or its written-in-full form
CEASE stands for Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression which is a problematic thing to write on your marketing material as it is making a claim that is unsupported by evidence (as well as being potentially harmful). The word 'CEASE' by itself is not much better given that it means 'stop' and will be on a page with references to autism.

2. There should be no mention of autism on homeopathy websites
Autism isn't something you can cure. Autism isn't something that you can treat with homeopathy. There is no need for homeopaths to mention autism as it is not relevant to them. I'd quite like homepaths to stop mentioning any other health condition (they can't treat, cure or otherwise alter the course of those either) but the advertising regulations have not been successful in getting them to stop mentioning named conditions.

3. There should be no link to the official CEASE therapy website
The 'treatment's official site (I shan't link) contains lots of information about what is involved and also provides a hub for homeopaths who've been 'trained' in it to list themselves. The site is outside the UK's jurisdiction so homeopaths can get around restrictions by being reasonably compliant on their own UK website and then link to their individual page on the official site where they can carry on making all sorts of claims. Sneaky. This also seems a ridiculous state of affairs.

4. There should be no reference to homeopathic detox therapy (HDT)
I'd not be surprised if the term CEASE will soon be considered problematic by homeopaths as it attracts attention from skeptics and regulators. HDT is likely to be one replacement term and I'm sure there will be others. It promotes the idea that some conditions arise because of 'toxins' from vaccination and that giving a homeopathic version of the vaccine can reverse this. Twaddle. Also the concept of detox is largely twaddle too

5. There should be no offering high dose vitamins and other supplements
These may cause gastric irritation and diarrhoea, but this is not evidence of toxins being expelled. One of the restrictions on SoH members is to ensure that their advice on supplements does not differ from that advised by the NHS.

6. Better safeguarding for children
If homeopaths are still permitted to get away with the shocking untruth that they can help kids with autism then at least can there be some proper oversight? At the moment it seems anyone can offer to treat children with autism and there is no requirement for them to be DBS-checked first.

7. Skype should not be used in homeopathic consultations
This is a cheap - no need for expensive clinic overheads - way of getting customers. As it's online homeopaths can 'treat' customers from other countries (US popular) as well as within the UK. Presumably no CEASE-offering homeopath is attempting to diagnose any children with autism (I'd think this would be challenging unless done face to face over a period of time) and they are merely attempting to insert themselves into the process in order to charge a fee and 'treat' them. The relevant medical personnel who see kids with autism might want to forewarn parents about this nonsense.

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Background information
CEASE 'treatment' is offered by homeopaths who've undergone additional training and it uses a mixture of homeopathy and supplements (it is not pure homeopathy). It's currently estimated that there are more than 120 homeopaths in the UK flogging this treatment to parents of children with autism - there is no evidence that it helps anyone with autism. It promotes the harmful idea that autism is caused by vaccination and there may be a risk of side-effects of the high doses of supplements that practitioners recommend. In short, it's bad news.

I've written several blog posts already on efforts to try and get regulators to take action (this has been reasonably successful, though I can't personally take any credit) and on individual (un-named) homeopaths whose websites I've been monitoring.

While I'd like all homeopaths to stop claiming they can treat autism the focus is largely on those who are members of the Society of Homeopaths (SoH). This is because the SoH has its register of members accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). This doesn't really mean that much in practical terms (as far as I can tell) but it does have the advantage that accreditation can be rescinded if the SoH members don't comply with the SoH's code of practice. We're not sure how miffed the SoH or its members would be if accreditation were removed - no idea if this is much of a sanction.

You can read the PSA's Accreditation Panel's Decision for the Society of Homeopaths (meeting in Jan 2018, published Feb 2018) which outlines the
The Panel provided the following Condition to be implemented by the timeframes specified:

1. The Society [of Homeopaths] must:
a. Develop and submit to the Panel for review its position statement on the use of CEASE therapy by registrants, including advertising this. This must be submitted to the Panel for review and published within three months
b. Develop mechanisms to ensure that registrants who use and advertise CEASE therapy follow the Society’s position and do not breach its Code of Ethics and Practice. An action plan outlining how this will be achieved must be submitted to the Panel within one month
c. Review risks related to CEASE and other therapies additional to registrants’ regular scope of practice, as part of its ongoing risk assessments. This must be incorporated into the Society’s risk matrix within three months.
The Panel provided the following Instructions to be implemented by the timeframe stated or by annual review of accreditation as specified below:

1. The Society is to publish its exceptional circumstances policy regarding registrants who are not displayed on the public register, within six months.
2. The Society is to submit the outcomes of its website audits, including websites checked and all actions taken.
3. The Society is to provide clearer information to complainants on the actions it takes in relation to concerns raised when these are resolved outside of the formal complaints process.
4. The Society is to develop and publish its persistent or vexatious complaints policy to make clear where it considers contact from people or organisations to be unreasonably persistent or vexatious and the approach it will take.

The Panel provided the following Learning Points to be verified at the next annual review of accreditation:

1. The Society should consider making improvements to its openness and transparency by, for example, publishing its Board meeting minutes and other information previously available to the public on its website as soon as possible.
2. The Society should consider submitting its web page on ‘The evidence base for homeopathy’ to the Advertising Standards Authority’s Copy Advice team for independent review.

Further reading
UK Homeopathy Regulation's blog has several posts on CEASE - they have been instrumental behind the scenes in effecting a lot of the changes mentioned. Homeopaths in particular are advised to pay particular attention to their posts and tweets.

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Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).