Since you’re reading this, chances are good that you believe, as I do, that when it comes to healthcare, natural and holistic is best.
Perhaps you are aware of certain statistics that are almost too horrifying to believe, yet sadly true – such as that every year, adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs taken as prescribed kill hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and seriously harm millions more.
Maybe you agree, therefore, that any treatment that is toxic or that may otherwise harm health should only be used as a last resort – and that it is essential we all have access to complementary and alternative (CAM) healthcare.
If you’re with me on all of that, then I’m sure you also agree that it’s vitally important that we are able to freely access information about what our options are.
But few practitioners, let alone patients, are aware just how draconian UK law now is in this respect.
The shocking reality is this: under UK law, only doctors and other registered medical professionals are able to claim they can treat any condition.
You may already know that that this is the case for serious diseases, such as cancer, but very few realise that this in fact goes so far it encompasses even “stress”. Yes – it is now technically illegal for any non-medical practitioner in the UK to advertise that they can treat stress or to imply to their patients that they can.
Experienced holistic practitioners are receiving letters so threatening and intimidating they are removing essential information from their websites and in some cases even considering closing down their practices out of fear they will be sent to jail.
That said, many other practitioners – and most patients – have no idea things have changed. If you are a practitioner, I encourage you to send your patient list a link to this article so they are informed, as ultimately consumers are the ones who need to stand up and say this is not on.
The law doesn’t only severely limit what practitioners can say about their abilities, but also about any products they recommend to patients. For example, when a patient sees a nutritional therapist it’s helpful for them to go away with a list of the supplements they’ve been prescribed, together with what they’ve been prescribed them for. It is also now illegal. That would be implying that the supplements might have an impact on the condition/s the patient sought treatment for – not allowed.
So if CAM practitioners aren’t able to say they nor any of the supplements they may prescribe will have any impact on any condition, what are they allowed to claim they can do?
Well, if you’re healthy they can help you “optimise” your health.
As soon as you have any form of dysfunction, as far as the powers that be are concerned, CAM practitioners can’t help you. Only a doctor can.
Of course, they can’t actually make you agree with them about that but they can make it very difficult for you to get the information you need in order to choose the best practitioner for you – and that is exactly what they are doing.
Now, please don’t think for a second that I am arguing against regulation nor implying that practitioners should be able to say whatever they want. Far from it.
My point is that the level of censorship of complementary and alternative practitioners has now reached a point where it seriously hampers the ability of those practitioners – including many who are highly qualified and have decades of experience – to communicate with patients and prospective patients.
In my opinion, that makes this a freedom of speech issue for the practitioner, and even more importantly a health freedom one for the consumer. It censors information essential to you, I and anyone else who has chosen to take responsibility for their own health. Personally, I’m outraged, and if, like me, you’ve also been greatly helped by experienced holistic practitioners, you probably are, too.
The argument from the powers that be for this and other restrictions on our ability to care for our own health as we see fit is that this is for our own protection, as the only medicine that is scientifically proven is conventional medicine.
Yet the reality is that this form of medicine not only has very little to offer when it comes to the most common chronic illnesses of today, but its practice of using toxic means to suppress symptoms is far more damaging to long-term health than any holistic treatment I’ve ever heard of.
Take Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as M.E. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you told me that you or someone close to you has suffered from this debilitating condition. But I would be amazed if you told me that conventional medicine was able to turn it around – because it would be the first case I’ve ever heard of that happening, despite having conversed with countless C.F.S/M.E. patients over the last 15 years, including some very close to me.
It’s well known among patients that the conventional medical profession has essentially nothing to offer C.F.S/M.E. patients. However, I know of numerous C.F.S/M.E. patients who have improved greatly or even enjoyed complete recovery through seeing a holistic practitioner experienced in treating C.F.S/M.E.
Yet now those very practitioners are technically banned from saying they can treat C.F.S/M.E and some have already received threatening letters. We’re fast heading towards a climate where it will be much harder for a C.F.S/M.E. patient in desperate need of the best holistic treatment – and indeed for patients of the many other conditions conventional medicine can’t help – to find out which practitioners have the greatest expertise with their condition.
It’s not that anything has changed on the legal front (these restrictions stem from EU laws which were passed some time ago: specifically though not exclusively the 2001 Human Medicinal Products Directive, the 2002 Food Supplements Directive and the 2007 Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation) – it is rather about increased policing of claims made.
These days, when we’re looking for a product or service we hop online, and those who believe in holistic health are no different – they use the internet to research their condition and treatment options. But as of March 1 this year the powers of the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – the UK media’s voluntary watchdog and regulator – were extended to cover the internet, including websites, blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
This gives the ASA vastly increased powers to police the way in which practitioners communicate with patients and prospective patients. There certainly needs to be regulation to prevent fradulent claims in this field, as in any other, and I believe the ASA has been justified in acting against many of the claims that appear on its Adjudications page. But in my opinion and that of others knowledgeable about complementary and alternative medicine, it lacks the knowledge to reliably evaluate claims made in this field, appears biased against it, and is overstepping the mark.
On Friday July 29, representatives from Alliance for Natural Health International (ANH-Intl) and the Complementary Medical Association (CMA) met with six ASA representatives at the watchdog’s London offices. ANH-Intl’s Dr Robert Verkerk quizzed them about their backgrounds and concluded that, “none of the relevant staff possessed scientific qualification.”
Yet the concerns of ANH-Intl and the CMA were brushed off, with Vena Raffle, the ASA’s Head of Investigations, telling them, “You don’t need to worry. This is what we do. We deal with advertising complaints in all areas from roofing to guttering. We can’t be experts in everything but we work to standards across all areas.”
In a press release following the meeting, the Complementary Medical Assosication’s Jayney Goddard pointed out that, “Practitioner-patient relationships can’t be evaluated the same way as roofs and guttering.”
And in an interview with me last week, Meleni Aldridge, executive coordinator at Alliance for Natural Health International, added that, “Even though the ASA has been around for 50 years, that doesn’t mean that they have the relevant experience for every job. Regulating adverts for products is very different from understanding the physiology of a human being, which is necessary in order to effectively regulate the kind of claims practitioners use.”
The two groups consider the ASA’s approach – together with the vastly increased volume of complaints being fielded to it by the CAM-skeptic Nightingale Collaboration – to be akin to a “witch-hunt” against complementary and alternative practitioners.
In fact, they warn that the future practice of CAM will be increasingly eroded if the ASA continues with its current heavy-handed policy, which has included sending threatening letters to practitioners.
However, Aldridge points out that what many who’ve been targeted do not realise is that while the ASA can make life difficult for practitioners, through naming and shaming, it can be challenged. “But so far, most practitioners are rolling over in fear and either taking their websites down or doing everything they’re told,” she says.
“We have asked our members how they feel when they get a letter from the ASA and many feel threatened and intimidated, with some being concerned that they may be sent to jail if they don’t comply,” says the Complementary Medical Association’s Goddard. “It’s not surprising that some practitioners feel they have no option but to shut down their practice.”
Aldridge adds that, “The biggest loser is the consumer. The powers that be will say all of this is being done with the consumer in mind, to protect them, but when you’re removing essential information, the consumer is the loser. This is not actually protecting anyone at all. After all education is empowerment, but perhaps that’s what all this is about.”
The increased powers of the ASA are just one example of the way in which health freedoms are being eroded worldwide, and especially across the EU, North America and Australia. (For an overview of the issues, read my 2010 interview with Alliance for Natural Health International’s founder and executive director Dr Robert Verkerk).
“What we are seeing now is part of a 20-year regulatory juggernaut, often with long transition periods between when laws are passed and when they come into full force,” says Aldridge. “Those transition periods desensitise people from taking action, which is very clever. It’s a form of politics called gradualism.”
This view is echoed by the owner of a leading holistic clinic that has been forced to take essential information off its website after threatening letters from the ASA: “This legislation is being pushed in through the back door and in such an under-handed way. Every day that goes by people are losing time to stand up for themselves because they are a) too naïve to believe it is happening, and b) too disempowered to think they can do anything about it.”
Another source close to the situation comments that, “In a lot of respects, this feels like a stitch-up of CAM practitioners. Nothing but a big corporate stitch-up.”
And indeed, with more and more people discovering the benefits of nutritional supplements, organic food and all things natural and holistic, the pharmaceutical, bio-tech and agribusiness corporations face a threat to their present and future profits, and it’s not one they’re taking lying down. Many believe the countless laws which restrict health freedom, supposedly for our own protection, are in reality about protecting one thing only: the profits of these giant and powerful corporations.
That said, these corporations receive considerable indirect support from a completely separate quarter: religious fundamentalists! Yes, that’s right, though they’re not often recognised as such. The religion in question is the brand of “science” that is so blinkered and reductionistic it won’t consider any drug nor treatment that doesn’t fit into the “randomised controlled trial” model – which by its very nature rules out any truly holistic therapy.
Those in this church are every bit as closed to alternative worldviews – and intent on attacking them – as any religious nut. Fundamentalists of this kind have been a major source of complaints to the ASA this year – and have for decades been unwittingly making it much easier for the corporations to push through their agenda.
Where does this leave you and I? “Consumers are being treated like sheep,” says Aldridge. “They’re basically being put in a position where they’re being told to be wary of nutritional supplements and anything else natural but that pharmaceutical drugs and genetically modified foods are nothing to be concerned about.”
So what can we do? “We need consumers declaring that they want change; that they’re not happy with things the way they are,” says Aldridge. “We need people complaining to MPs and MEPs and they need to do that by writing personal letters – no form letters. We don’t want anyone to take this lying down. Practitioners need to play this game of semantics and be compliant so they can stay in practice, but we don’t want anyone to just roll over.
“What we are trying to do is create an appropriate regulatory framework,” she adds. “We’re not calling for no regulation. There needs to be regulation, but it needs to be appropriate.”
And what does she believe the future holds? “My own personal view is that they’re not going to win. You can’t separate people from nature. You can try, but everyone’s DNA is screaming something different. But in the meantime, people are going to have to understand that practitioners’ hands are tied in terms of what they can say, and learn to read between the lines when carrying out their research.”
Check out Alliance for Natural Health International’s Get Involved page for a wealth of information on how you can stand up for health freedom and make a difference! And if you are in the UK and value your right to make your own informed decisions about your health, I urge you to write to your MP and MEP about the practitioner issue.
And as mentioned, if you are a practitioner, I urge you to let your patients know what is going on by sending them a link to this article. There are millions of us worldwide who value our right to care for our health as we see fit, and the first step in protecting that right is awareness.