A few years ago I wrote how the McTimoney College of Chiropractic was in deep trouble after the University of Wales collapsed. The University had been accrediting the chiropractic college along with international degrees from some very dubious colleges. Without the Univeristy backing, the McTimoney College could not award degrees to its students.
Since then, the college has been rescued by BPP University, which is the UK’s second privately owned, for-profit University run by American giant Apollo Group. McTimoney College is owned by BPP and now can award its own degrees after the current government gave it full University status.
McTimoney Chiropractic is a cult within a cult – essentially a schism of the practice of chiropractic that rejects some of the methods used in favour of its own spine wizardry. If there is scant evidence for the effectiveness of chiropractic as a whole, there is even less for this heretical form. Nonetheless, the McTimoney Association claims that a quarter of chiropractors in the UK follow these methods.
And under the BPP, it looks as if they want to expand quite aggressively. Historically, McTimoney has been located in Oxfordshire with its college on an Industrial estate in Abingdon next to Topps Tiles and Furniture Village. It is now planning to open a second degree programme in Manchester at the BPP Campus above the Pizza Express. However, in order to do so, the programme would have to be approved by the Chiropractic regulator, the General Chiropractic Council. In the UK, Chiropractic is statutorily regulated – just like real health professionals. So they have to do things properly.
Their report and recommendations are now available. The report notes the lack of books, the small allocated space and the problems with staff having to cover both Abingdon and Manchester students. Nonetheless, the recommendation is that the GCC approves this new development in UK chiropractic education.
13. The panel recommends to the Education Committee recognition of the proposed MCC integrated undergraduate Masters (M. Chiro.) five year part-time programme (Manchester Campus) for a period of five years starting with the 2014 intake to the programme (i.e. January 2014 – January 2018 for the five year programme and for cohorts graduating from the programme from December 2019 – March 2023 without further conditions over and above those recommended as a result of the September 2013 visit to the two MCC (Abingdon) programmes.
So, there you are. But let’s remind ourselves of some of the issues. Chiriopractic is a pseudoscientific, vitalist belief system with little or no evidence that it is effective for any condition. You may think of chiropractors as those people in white coats who do bad backs. But chiropractic was founded on clairvoyant visions that the spine held the key to all illnesses and that by ‘adjusting’ the spine, you could clear dangerous ‘subluxations’ and so cure everything from deafness to asthma, headaches to sports injuries. Furthermore, chiropractic carries risks. Many people report minor problems with a few people suffering serious complications such as stroke and death. Chiropractic is a vestigial remnant of Victorian Fairground bonesetters and mountebanks transformed into a simulacrum of a medical specialism. It is a classic cargo cult and a has become parasitical on people’s desire to have something done about their aches and pains when medical science has only low intervention answers.
What is particularly worrisome about the McTimoney chiropractic is how they offer degrees in “chiropractic paediatrics” and “animal manipulation”. Practicing chiriopractic on children is never justified. Parents have been scared into offering their infants for treatments after stories of ‘birth trauma’. Manipulating the spine of infants and children, whilst making unsubstantiated claims, is simply unethical. Children cannot give informed consent or understand the risks. Animal chiropractic is not recognised in the UK and its practice is essentially illegal. Only registered vets may perform such practices or allow someone else to do so under their supervision.
But the Education Committee of the regulator is likely to disagree with me wholeheartedly. A key player in the GCC, the chair of their Resource Management Committee, is Professor Christina Cunliffe PhD DC CBiol FIBiol FCC (Paeds) FMCA. Cunliffe sits on the Education committee despite being Dean of BPP School of Health, Principal of the MCTimoney College of Chiropractors, a graduate of McTimoney College and BPP University Treasurer. She has a very clear conflict of interest in seeing BPP expand its chiropractic programme. In addition, other members of the committee also have links to McTimoney. Despite, McTimoney being a minority practice in UK chiropractic, four out of six chiropractor members are associated with the college or the McTimoney Association.
No doubt these members will have not taken part in any discussion of the accreditation of the new BPP programme.
Even so, it is difficult to see how effective regulation of the trade of chiropractic can take place when there are such clear conflicts. Who is going to protect prospective students from embarking on a costly course that is not founded on sound principles and good evidence? Who is to protect the safety and care of their subsequent clients? Indeed, this is whole problem with statutory regulation of chiropractors by the GCC. If the regulator was to genuinely put the interests and safety of the public first, chiropractic would shut down tomorrow. If chiropractors were forced to not make claims they could not evidence and forced to not enroll their clients in lengthily and unnecessary treatment regimes they would have no business.
The GCC only exists to protect the interests of chiropractors. The scandal of the Simon Singh affair showed that. The GCC dismissed the many hundreds of complaints that were made about chiropractors’ false and misleading claims. To have enforced their own standards would have ended chiropractic, and with it, the GCC.
As with all aspects of legislation and regulation around alternative medicine, governments have only been capable of creating rules and regimes that protect quacks at the expense of public well being. Regulators fall back on protecting trades even when this is in direct conflict with public protection. Heads are turned when obvious problems arise. The GCC should be abolished. It is not fit for purpose and only serves to provide a smoke screen over self-serving interests.