Tuesday, 6 April 2010

*Michelle Alexander and OfQuack - SLW is on the case

Today I submitted my very first complaint to OfQuack (affectionately known in the sceptical community as the "Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council").

UPDATE, 17 Apr: OfQuack have replied. See below.

The unlucky registrant upon whom the wrath of SLW falls is Michelle Alexander, a local reflexologist.

Michelle's website contains several claims about reflexology which I strongly suspect cannot be justified.

OfQuack complaints must be submitted on a special form, but luckily, evidence can be submitted on a separate sheet. Here is what it contained.

"This document has been written to accompany my my complaint to the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), regarding Michelle Alexander who is registered with the CNHC as a reflexologist.

1. The registrant promotes reflexology on her website, www.beautyswithin.co.uk

2. On her website, the registrant makes the following claims:

(i) Reflexology "reaches back to ancient Egypt"

(ii) Reflexology "help[s] remove crystalline deposits, re-opening energy channels allowing the body to re-balance and heal from within"

(iii) Reflexology "Imprves [sic] circulation"

(iv) Reflexology can be "applied to specific areas in [sic] your feet to affect an entirely different organ(s) or body part(s)"

(v) Reflexology "improve[s] the function of your organs and glands" and "bring[s] back the body's balance"

(vi) Reflexology "opens energy channels"

3. Section 15 of the Code of Conduct, Performance and Ethics For Registrants states "You must not make or support unjustifiable statements relating to particular products or services".

4. With regard to the six statements quoted above, under Section 15 of the Code of Conduct I challenge whether:

(i) The registrant can justify any of the six statements

(ii) The registrant has "follow[ed] CNHC guidelines in relation to advertising [her] services"

5. With regard to the six statements quoted above, under Section A of the Code of Conduct ("Introduction") I challenge whether:

(i) The registrant has "observe[d] the standards set out in this document" and has "ensure[d] that they are observed"

6. With regard to the six statements quoted above, under Section B of the Code of Conduct ("Your duties as a Registrant") I challenge whether:

(i) The registrant has "act[ed] in the best interests of [her] patients, clients and users"

(ii) The registrant has "maintain[ed] appropriate and effective communication with patients, clients, users, carers and other registrants and professionals"

(End of document)"

The reply arrived on 17th April.

"I am writing on behalf of Maggie Dunn, CNHC CEO/Registrar in response to the complaint form received on 12 April 2010 regarding Michelle Alexander’s website.

In November, CNHC’s Investigating Committee panel met to consider a number of similar complaints about claims made on practitioners’ websites. At that meeting the panel agreed to uphold the complaints made but decided that each of the practitioner’s fitness to practise was not impaired as they did not deliberately seek to mislead their clients or to exaggerate the benefits of the therapy which were described in good faith. The panel asked the CEO to ensure that the websites and any associated printed materials published by the registrants against whom you made a complaint were amended to ensure that they comply with paragraph 15 above by the end of March 2010. The panel also asked the CEO to initiate discussions with CNHC’s Profession Specific Boards (PSBs) and professional fora to agree advice to registrants about clause 15 of the Code, and to bring this matter and the outcome of the panel’s deliberations to the attention of all registrants, PSBs and Committee members.

A number of further, similar complaints were considered by the Conduct and Competence Committee at a meeting on 9 March. At this meeting it was agreed that it would not be appropriate to consider these complaints at the present time since they are so similar to the ones received previously, and since guidance on advertising has not yet been published by CNHC to assist registrants in making changes to their publicity material. The reason for the delay in publishing guidance is because at its meeting in March, the Committee has agreed that the guidance in preparation should be further developed to include all communications with potential clients, including verbal communication by telephone and email. This will delay the publication schedule to May, to allow time for consultation with PSB and committee members.

In line with the decision taken by the Conduct and Competence Committee, we have decided not to investigate your complaint at this time, although we are grateful to you for raising this matter with you, we take this matter very seriously and we recognise that your complaint was made in the public interest. We would be pleased to consider any future complaints you wish to make but would not be able to action any complaints of a similar nature to the complaint you have already submitted for six months from the date of this letter. This allows time for CNHC to publish and promote its guidance on advertising, and for registrants to take appropriate action.

I would like to thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of CNHC.

Yours sincerely

Carol Jollie, Business Manager"


  1. It's a shame you don't have the courage to meet these people you deem as a "Miscreant", referring to me of course.

    Whilst you're quite right to question the issues raised, and I praise for this as people like you will potentially come across people who are bogus and should be reported.

    Do you have the same courage to meet with me in person that you have to view me on the internet without even met me? That is not a threat, it is a kind gesture to invite you to meet me personally as a person. The answer to my question is, I think not!

  2. Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for your comments. I haven't yet found debating CAM practitioners to be a rewarding experience. The conversation usually goes something like this:

    ME: Is there any clinical evidence that these magic beans work?

    PRACTITIONER: [Some answer not related to clinical evidence]

    ME: You know, I've searched the medical databases for trials on these magic beans, but...

    PRACTITIONER: [Some answer not related to medical research]

    ME: Do you understand it's an offence to make these kinds of health claims?

    PRACTITIONER: [Some answer not related to legal status of magic beans]

    Does that answer your question?

  3. NO, it doesn't!

    'm happy for you to make the challenges but you have categorised me based on your previous experiences with other people, not me as an individual.

    You have judged without meeting me and i'm certainly NOT happy at all that you have referred to me as a MISCREANT, this is slander!

    You are entitled to your opinions as is anyone but to insult me with such slander is disgusting and something I will be taking up further unless you apologise publicly for slandering me referring to me as a Miscreant!

    I must point out... I am not looking for you to apologise for your challenges but for slandering me!

  4. Hi Michelle,

    Under the CPR 2008 regulations, it's an offence to make false health claims. False health claims include those that aren't supported by rigorous clinical evidence. The Defamation Act 1996 provides several defences, one of which depends on the demonstrable veracity of the disputed comments.

    If you're feeling a bit defamed, feel free to sue me. It's a tortuous and ruinously expensive legal process, but still quicker and less uncomfortable than waiting for hell to freeze over!

  5. It is interesting that SLW decided to use the term 'miscreant'. Although these days 'miscreant' generally refers to someone who behaves badly (or even unlawfully), the etymology of the word gives us an older and perhaps more apt definition. It comes from Old French 'mes' - wrongly + 'creant'(from 'creire' - to believe). It can therefore mean someone whose beliefs are not in line with official dogma. It would be correct to say that the mechanisms by which Reflexology is supposed to work are not in line with official dogma (ie modern evidence based medicine).

  6. You obviously have nothing better to do than insult people, i have never made any false claims, what I have written is based on books i have read, course material provided by colleges and research on the internet.

    I trust, with all the time you have on your hands you'll be slandering all the websites, colleges and books that have written such information.

    As for waiting for hell to freeze over, your attitude belongs in the sewer!

    I have tried to be nice, respectful and polite but yet again, you still show your arrogant & obnoxious self.

    Costs don't come and as for hell freezing over, lets just hope you're there when it does!

  7. Hi Michelle,

    (1) Something you read in a book once
    (2) Something you read on the internet once
    (3) Something someone told you once
    (4) Rigorous clinical trials conducted by qualified experts and published in respectable peer-reviewed medical journals

    Are you trying to argue that all four are an equally reliable way to find out what kinds of claims about the world are true, and which are false?

  8. you want to meet to discuss these poits?

    as mentioned before, i'm more than happy for you to meet me in person, hopefully, you'll be as eager to meet me face-to-face as you are to respond via the net!

  9. Hi Michelle,

    I will ask again - very politely, and not at all rudely - what you think we might discuss?

    If you just want to harangue me, because it will ease your hurt feelings, you can be honest about that. I sometimes enjoy being on the sharp end of a rant.

    But if it's some kind of debate you're hoping for, it's not going to be a very satisfying one for either of us. I am interested in what kinds of claims about the world might be true. To separate the visionaries from the loonies, I like to ask what kinds of evidence support the claim, and how reliable that evidence might be.

    It seems as though you are content to rely on what other people tell you, without checking the facts for yourself. (Forgive me if this sounds rude; I am trying to talk frankly.)

    What kind of common ground do you think we might reach? Or would we spend the whole time just lecturing at each other?

  10. and i will ask again... are you just as happy to meet with me face-to-face to discuss your issues, the questions you ask and anything else you wish to discuss as you are to raise them over the net?

    my issue with you is, once again, is NOT what you query/debate etc, it is the fact that you have referred to me as a MISCREANT! Where is your evidence/proof that I am that of a miscreant?

  11. If a meeting is arranged then would both parties be agreeable to having it recorded and broadcast on the Skepticule podcast ?


    Many thanks.

  12. If Michelle wants to influence Ron then I dont suggest a meeting. I suggest that she becomes the official reflexologist for Luton Town FC.

  13. Didn't the club have an official reflexologist a few years ago? Or am I getting them confused with the chiropractors whom we definitely used to employ?

    P.S. COYH!

  14. Take a deep breath Ron. In 1993 the Luton Town phiosiotherapist (I recall only the name Andy) used some Arnica 30c maybe once or twice. Clive Goodyear who followed on with the physiotherapy that year was even less interested.
    Therefore Luton Town do have vauge and distant links with homeopathy.
    Up the Cherries.

  15. One of our local chiropractic clinics, until recently, boasted in their advertisements of their "historical links" with the club.

    Which presumably means that they were employed to give a few back rubs once, and not invited back...

  16. MR sceptical like nothing better than to bait people. He will be the first to turn here for help when western medicine can not help him. I have seen it so many times before, It will happen sooner or later as no one's health holds out for ever and my words will ring in his ear. Good luck ron.


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