Prince Charles’ Ofquack is a Dead Duck

Prince Charles’ Foundation for Integrated Health and its new regulatory quango, the Natural Healthcare Council (or Ofquack, as it is bound to become known), is due to launch in April. Ofquack is designed to be an ‘independent self-regulatory body for complementary therapists.

In 2000, the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee looked into the regulation of non-medically trained health workers. It asked the Prince of Wales Foundation to look into setting up a body to mop up all the ‘harmless’ CAM therapies, such as reiki, massage, aromatherapy, yoga and homeopathy. Alternative therapies that have the potential to have real effects on people such as osteopathy, herbalism and acupuncture have already been statutorily regulated or are soon set to be. Ofquack, The Natural Healthcare Council, will not be a statutory body; it will be voluntary (for now) and will involve representatives from each ‘discipline’ and lay people to help self-regulate.

The idea behind setting up this new body is to attempt to provide protection to the public from exploitative or dangerous practices. The Quackometer believes the structure of the body will mean that it will be impotent to carry out this role. For this reason, I am disappointed that Ofquack is being set up in its present from and I would hope Prince Charles team, headed by Professor Dame Joan Higgins, would stop and think again.

However, I need not worry. As is becoming increasingly clear, large swathes of the alternative medicine industry want nothing to do with this initiative. This was totally predictable and the consequences are going to be hilarious.

Let’s start with the Homeopaths. The Society of Homeopaths has issued the following press release following yesterday’s report on Ofquack in The Times,

As the UK’s largest membership association and regulator of homeopaths, The Society of Homeopaths supports the establishment of an independent single register and regulatory body for homeopaths. Indeed, a recent survey of its membership indicated that at least 65% would support statutory regulation for homeopaths.

Registered members of The Society of Homeopaths (identifiable by the designation ‘RSHom’) have a recognised professional qualification, comprehensive insurance and have agreed to abide by a strict Code of Ethics & Practice.

The Society of Homeopaths has yet to assess the suitability and standards of the Natural Healthcare Council for the purpose of providing regulation of homeopaths.

Paula Ross
Chief Executive

Now, as with all press releases from SoH, you have to take great care in interpreting what they are saying. Let me do that delicate task for you and sum up their thoughts…

“Over our dead bodies.”

The Alliance of Registered Homeopaths has been a little more straight talking over Ofquack. Karin Mont of ARH, wrote in their in house rag, Homeopathy in Practice:

Federal Voluntary Self Regulation [Ofquack] is a recently introduced concept that is intended to bring a diverse group of complementary therapies under one central control. The homeopathy profession has been unanimous in rejecting federalisation as an option for regulation.

In other words,

“Over our dead bodies.”

It’s not just the homeopaths that are hostile to Prince Charles’ new quackery club. The Reiki practitioners (wave their hands around to ‘channel healing energy’) set up their own regulatory committee to ‘respond’ to the development of Ofquack.

On their web site they now note,

Following a meeting in November 07, The RRWG has now formally withdrawn from the Federal Working Group set up by the Princes Trust for Integrated Health. The Group is considering its options and the way forward in January 2008.

Further explanation is given in a letter from Anthony Perry, Chair of the Reiki Regulatory Working Group. He explains that no-touch Reiki practitioners are looking for ‘light touch’ regulation. Central to this is the desire that,

We believe the Regulator should have an overriding duty to regulate the practitioners, but not the practices or therapies themselves, e.g. such as the teaching of Reiki in its many diverse forms.

So, in short: you may keep a list of our members, but don’t dare tell us how to wave our hands around and who we can wave them over.

The aromatherapists are not quite so well organised. They too have set up a regulatory body, but it looks still-born. Their web site appears to be down. For some insight, we must look at the few aromatherapy bloggers around.

Tony Burfield on the aromaconnection blog writes that the ‘sky fell in’ with the announcement of the set up of Ofquack. He thinks it will be an “an unmitigated disaster for CAM”. Tony then goes into a lot of conspiracy theories, describing Sense about Science as ‘sinister’. He clearly believes there is some sort of corporate conspiracy to control aromatherapists. Tony smells a rat.

But tellingly, he says,

Within aromatherapy, the low educational entry requirements & abysmal course standards set in UK colleges are a national joke, so setting minimum standards for practitioners will presumably be a great source of material for satirical magazines such as Private Eye. The profession is starved of finance, so no substantial evidence-based aromatherapy data-base exists as such – anything that does exist is likely to consist of published (so-called) aromatherapy studies by non-practising academics, rather than tapping the massive collective experience of everyday practitioners

One would have thought that aromatherapists could have done with all the friends they needed, but it looks like one more case of,

“Over our dead bodies.”

Tony concludes with a prayer:

Please pray with us that Prof. Edvard[sic] Ernst is not promoted to a position of adviser or authority within the National Healthcare Council. Ernst is a Corporate Science sympathiser who is working undercover as Director of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, & whose sole purpose seems to be to rip the soul out of CAM, armed only with a Corporate Science device called “the meta-analysis”. Ernst’s stature & reputation is such that it has even over-awed normally sensible Herbalgram staff who worship & reproduce his every utterance, & who apparently haven’t noticed that now HE’S WORKING FOR THE OPPOSITION. Wake up!

I think we can see a full picture now amongst the various proposed members of Ofquack. There is deep suspicion that they will not be allowed to practice the way they wish to practice. Homeopaths do not even trust each other to regulate themselves with at least ten different registering factions looking after the interests of different beliefs. And worse, heaven forbid that a scientist like Ernst should get involved and apply some reason and evidence to their regulation. (Fortunately for Tony, I doubt Ernst will get invited to this little party. Charley and Edzard are not the closest of friends.)

We also see fear of conspiracies. Ofquack will receive government funding and this lays it open to charges of being controlled by the enemies of quackery. Users and practitioners of alternative medicine have a strong anti-establishment streak about them. Asking them to trust in Ofquack will be like asking wildebeest to use crocodile endorsed river crossings.

But the biggest problems lie in the arrogance and independence of each faction. The homeopaths are the worst. They see themselves as a ‘complete system of medicine’ and holders of the true keys to healing. Other healing practices are wrong or corrupt. To lump homeopaths in with the smell sniffers, the crystal danglers, the foot ticklers and the bendy yoga lovers would be a deep humiliation for them and a completely unacceptable loss of autonomy and status.

Over their dead bodies.

9 Comments on Prince Charles’ Ofquack is a Dead Duck

  1. Fascinating, isn’t it? However, I’m not convinced that the homeopaths in the field are necessarily in agreement with the cabals that run their organisations. I think these front line warriors crave the respect, prestige and the business that comes with royal patronage. Could there possibly be another schism within the organisations purporting to regulate non-medically qualified practitioners? Will the SoH’s attempts at stealing members from the ARH be for naught?

  2. Excellent post. It’s illuminating that there is so much resistance to a move that is essential from the point of view of one of their favourite philosophers – Kuhn (I’m completely obsessed, I know). From a Kuhnian perspective this shower need a unified representative body.

    Still, this is probably not possible given the large number of flavours these cranks come in; incommensurability indeed.

    Perhaps it’s a demonstration that an agreement on the content of disciplines is needed before they can be regulated.

  3. Well Mr Gimpy – you may well be right. Undoubtedly, there will be some homeopaths who prefer the shelter of royal patronage. Also, there will be a degree of dual registrations. The big question will be how many?

    The financial expense to homeopaths is not insignificant – over £500 a year, and we understand that many are feeling the pinch.

    Significant sole registrations with Ofquack will quickly put a financial strain on SoH and ARH. Will they be able to keep up their publication roles? Will one or both fold? My guess is not just yet – but if I was in charge I would be on a charm offensive with my members and looking quite deeply at my business model.

    What I do know will happen is that some mischievous chimps somewhere will undoubtedly test the regulatory powers of Ofquack – and that will be huge amounts of fun to watch…

  4. Time will tell Mr L C Noir. I do wonder sometimes if the high heid yins at the SoH have lost touch with their membership. After all these people are the lecturers, the media stars, the purveyors of placebos to the affluent metropolitan middle classes and in the case of Paula Ross, not even a homeopath but a motoring critic and professional director, their income is not in doubt. It is the serfs begging for scraps in middle England and the provinces that seem to make up most of the SoH membership. As the economy weakens and disposable income falls who will speak for them? Is it the SoH or the HRH? Or nobody?

  5. Won’t somebody please think of the provincial homoeopaths???

    Seriously now, these undercover roles with Corporate Science sound like fun. Does anyone know how I go about applying for one?

  6. I can guarantee that this outfit will have limited teeth and will promote rather than regulate. There won’t even be a research agenda and all that will happen will be that it gives the CAMs more weight when it comes to ridiculous claims…..

    Now then, if I were in charge……


  7. what a shame this isn’t being done properly (and also a shame that this article is being used to have dig at alternative practitioners). Anybody who has one to one physical medical or therapeutic contact with vulnerable individuals needs to be registered.
    My role for the police is to monitor sex offenders many of whom seek professions which allow them to furtehr their deviations and something like massage is ideal. There is no mandatory regulation and once they have served their sentence they can set up again, self employed and unregulated and there is no way to stop them. For people in this position of trust with vulnerable people to have them unregistered is non sesical and dangerous.

  8. Interesting that a recent search n Google (26/11/2010) against the key word Ofquack showed this on number one:

    About CNHC : Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council
    Welcome to the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) – Cached – Similar

    Maybe Mr Google is more intelligent that we thought!!!

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