Monday, 25 October 2010

OfQuack - "Where Are We Now?"

Yesterday I attended CamExpo - partly on the off-chance that I might come across a complainable advert or two - but mostly so I could listen to Maggie Dunn and Maggy Wallace talk about their immediate plans for OfQuack.

Maggie (or was it Maggy?) noticed a few people scribbling away into notebooks and thought it wise to ask if there were any members of the press in attendance.

Sadly, she didn't have the presence of mind to ask if there were any sceptics in the house!

Here's a quick summary of what I wrote down. It may not be a reliable guide to what was actually said and contains no quotes, only my own paraphrasing.

  • OfQuack has identified over three hundred and fifty "professional bodies" for complementary therapies (CAM), and see themselves as a good source of information for these bodies.
  • OfQuack was recently asked by the Department of Health (DoH) if it was a suitable body to regulate Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and herbal medicine. As far as I recall, they were talking about the new government, not the former one.
  • OfQuack now have reciprocal agreements with some statutory regulators, the General Medical Council (GMC) being one of them.
  • DoH are telling Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) that if the new "personal health budgets" are spent on CAM, only OfQuack-registered practitioners should be used. This month DoH offered similar advice to GPs.
  • OfQuack don't see themselves as being on the side of practitioners who "qualify" after taking an online weekend course. There was no discussion of whether three-year courses in quackery are a better guide to a therapist's legitimacy.
  • There seemed to be the perception that few customers have ever heard of OfQuack, or understand what they do.
  • OfQuack are pushing for Reiki to be regulated (by them, naturally. There's an awful lot of £45 registrations to be had from Reiki!)
  • Many OfQuack registrants don't like having to register several times, if they practise more than one therapy (and especially if they like to brand themselves as "holistic therapists"). The idea is under consideration.
  • Despite a rather clear explanation of the difference between regulators (like OfQuack) and professional associations, there were three questions from the audience asking why they should pay to register with multiple bodies. A bit slow on the uptake, some quacks are, and I reckon this might offer the best explanation as to why OfQuack's registration numbers are still so low.
  • People I spoke to earlier in the day (none of which were called Maggie) didn't know the current number of registrants

Then we got to the real meat of the discussion...

  • Maggy (or was it Maggie?) spoke about advertising, focusing on the idea that it is under attack from an organised campaign of sceptical activists. Skeptics [sic] in the Pub were mentioned as one of the possible, err, agitators.
  • No-one who spoke seemed sure of the extent of the campaign, or its motives.
  • Maggie (or was it Maggy?) asked if anyone present had been the victim of complaints (none were), and appealed in more general terms for its registrants to report any complaints about them to OfQuack HQ.
  • Maggy (or was it Maggie?) thought that there might be a campaign against practitioners of specific therapies, as there had been against chiropractors. Reflexology was mentioned in particular.
  • (If there is an organised anti-reflexology campaign, it's the first I've heard about it - I think the actual reason for multiple complaints against reflexologists is that their claims are far more implausible than those of, say, a sports massage therapist or a yoga teacher. I can't wait until OfQuack start regulating Reiki!)
  • OfQuack are having discussions with the ASA about the situation.
  • Maggie (or was it Maggy?) opined that it's a compliment that their therapies are receiving so many complaints, since if [sceptics] didn't think they were important, they wouldn't complain (lolwut?!?)
  • OfQuack have been drafting new guidance on advertising for their members. (They had earlier written to tell me that the guidance would be published in May.) The guidance has been sent to the ASA for their comments. The ASA haven't replied yet, so the guidance remains unpublished.
  • OfQuack are discussing with the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) the nature of evidence they are prepared to consider. There are moves afoot, apparently, to consider evidence besides randomised controlled trials (RCTs).

If true, this would be an absolute tragedy. I think OfQuack are clutching at straws, though - a hypothetical agreement reached with the ASA in smoke-filled corridors wouldn't save OfQuack members from breaking the law under the 2008 consumer protection regulations (CPR).

Interesting, very interesting...


  1. Sure, we think they are important. It's important that people are protected against bogus therapies, but that doesn't seem to be what CNHC is about. It seems to act more like an industry lobby at times.

    That is why people like me get annoyed - I've said it before and I'll say it again here - how can we have any faith in a regulator whose primary purpose is to protect the public (their words) and yet has no standards for efficacy or even safety?

  2. Indeed, how can we have faith in a government-sponsored regulator that doesn't regulate?

  3. "OfQuack now have reciprocal agreements with some statutory regulators, the General Medical Council (GMC) being one of them."

    FOIA request to the GMC, GDC, GCC, GPhC, NMC, GOsC, GOC and the HPC anyone?


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