Andy Burman Resigns From Ofquack

Andy Burman, Chief Executive of the British Dietetic Association, appears to have resigned his post from the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (Ofquack).

This news follows my recent criticism on this site of the BDA for not doing enough to educate the public about the difference between pseudoscientific Nutritional Therapists (as to be ‘regulated’ by Ofquack) and professionally trained and regulated dietitians (as currently represented by the BDA). This came in the wake of the news that a brain damaged woman had been given £810,000 by the insurers of self-styled nutritionist Barbara Nash. I commented that the situation was being made worse by the emergence of the ill-conceived, government sponsored and Prince Charles driven, CNHC. Ofquack will not protect the public from the practices and commercial motives of Nutritional Therapists and will do nothing to improve the public understanding of nutritional science – indeed, it will substantially undermine it.

It was therefore something of a shock to read a comment left on my blog that said that Andy Burman, Chief Executive of the BDA, was on the board of directors of the newly emerging Ofquack. The commenter said, “Instead the management of the BDA is actively undermining their own members.” My simple response was that the BDA was therefore doomed.

It would appear that I have poked a sharp stick into a dyke of sleeping dogs and unleashed a hornet’s nest of discontented angry bear dietitians. What became clear, by further comments on my web site, was that many grass roots dietitians were livid about the situation. A selection of some of the comments follows:

I wonder how much time Dieticians spend disabusing the general public of some wacky notion they have picked up from non evidenced based nutritional practitioners?

Might as well all raise a white flag to McKeith, Holford et al and face the fact that evidence based nutrition is a dead duck.

Is the chief exec of the BDA further providing legitimacy to the very nutritional therapists that are a danger to the public and in doing so professionally humiliating his own members?
Should dieticians now be demanding a change of direction and chief exec at the BDA or just abandoning the pointless organisation?

I am a proud HPC registered Dietitian and up till recently I was also a proud member(albeit diminishing) of the BDA. However on discovering that my very own Chief Exec Andy Burman is, a member of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council’s Federal Regulatory Council I am truly mad and embarrassed.

It looks like a storm was brewing. Indeed, Andy Burman appeared to feel it necessary to leave his own comment on my blog. In that comment, Mr Burman defended his role at Ofquack and the need for the organisation itself. Also, on his biography on the Ofquack website, he says,

Andy is committed to voluntary self regulation within complementary healthcare and honoured to be part of this new development.

This defense did not appease his critics. Further comments ensued.

I’m sorry – I find the response from the Chief Exec of the BDA beyond belief. How can you possibly maintain standards for stuff that doesn’t work? All you will do is provide legitimacy to those practitioners who do not maintain the high standard of your own members (who, by the way – must be absolutely livid that you are choosing to tacitly support quack therapists by providing legitimacy to them via regulation).

Ladies and Gentlemen It’s time to reclaim the place that is rightfully ours and maybe look at who we choose to represent us -because let’s face it in any other business our PR agency would have been well and truly fired by now!

I’m also very concerned at the news about Andy Burman. Maybe we should be reviewing his position as CEO of the BDA.

I think Andy has made his position untenable – the membership is mad as hell. Those of us who work in the private sector have all dealt with clients that have seen these therapists – some of the rubbish they sprout is quite unbelievable. The new council I think is a sham – and the NTs themselves do not want any more reg because they will end up halfing their income from all the supplements they sell [The BANT code of ‘ethics’ explicitly allows Nutritional Therapists to take commissions on supplements they sell. – LCN]

The final comment today from an anonymous dietitician reads,

I understand that Andy Burman has resigned from OfQuack. Good news for dietitians.

Although, I have not has direct confirmation of this yet, it is backed up by the disappearance of his biography on the Ofquack web site (compare the current version with Google’s cache). This was the very least that should have happened. It is obvious that some people believe that the involvement with Ofquack has undermined his role as Chief Executive at the BDA.

Ofquack was founded as a result of a monumental governmental mistake. The House of Lords, in 2000, recommended the government look into the proper regulation of alternative medicine. It was concerned that the public was not sufficiently protected from the alternative medicine trade and recommended that ways were sought to ensure practitioners were well trained, safe and effective in what they did. In an act of blazing naivity, the government saw fit to hand over this responsibility to Prince Charles and his bizarre organization, the Foundation for Integrated Health. The task defining what regulation should look like was handed over to the very people that cause the problem with their loony beliefs.

The result was predictable. FIH took to the task with gusto, forming important looking committees and consultations. The only thing dropped from the Lord’s recommendations was the question of efficacy. Ofquack are only interested in showing that boxes can be ticked regarding training. It does not matter one iota that the practices of those they seek to regulate do not work.

Indeed, this was against the very wishes of the House of Lords. In their summary they said,

Many CAM therapies are based on theories about their modes of action that are not congruent with current scientific knowledge. That is not to say that new scientific knowledge may not emerge in the future. Nevertheless as a Select Committee on Science and Technology we must make it clear from the outset that while we accept that some CAM therapies, notably osteopathy, chiropractic and herbal medicine, have established efficacy in the treatment of a limited range of ailments, we remain sceptical about the modes of action of most of the others. We therefore emphasise that in recommending the regulation of training in CAM we specifically exclude training in the asserted modes of action of many CAM therapies. We do so because regulation could lead to a misleading public perception of improved status; such regulation is in fact an attempt to safeguard the public. (My emphasis)

It looks like our vestigial feudal wing of government can duly show wisdom and insight when required, even in the face of their overlord, Prince Charles. Magna Carta rocks.

Despite Prince Charles FIH’s stated commitment to evidence based alternative medicine being ‘integrated’ with real medicine they avoid the evidence base like the plague. They embrace nonsense healing rituals like homeopathy and reflexology without appearing embarrassed about the utter lack of credibility for these techniques. Just check out their site. Can you spot any alternative medicine that Prince Charles says to avoid because of its lack of a credible scientific evidence base? I can see no reason why the claims of nutritional therapists will not be treated in exactly the same manner. As long as they can claim to hold some sort of training they well get the Ofquack seal of approval. The content of that training will not be important.

Andy Burman, in my opinion, is making the same mistake that everyone in the sorry tale of Ofquack is making – that the way to protect the public is to regulate the trades of alternative medicine in the same manner that you might regulate real medicine. The flaw with this idea is that you cannot regulate nonsense. Professor David Colquhoun has demonstrated the central weakness of Ofquack in the THES and on his own blog (1) (2). Is a homeopath a safer practitioner because they have successfully completed the modules that teach them that illness is caused by imbalances in the Vital Force and that a medicine’s effectiveness increases with more dilution? Does a Nutritional Therapist, after completing professional development courses in Hair Mineral Analysis or Allergy Testing offer a better service to their punters or allow them to fleece the public better with fraudulent pill selling techniques?

We do not provide astrologers and psychics with state money to set up their own self-regulatory bodies. Instead we allow existing mechanisms to ensure the worst of their practices are curbed by using the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards to warn and prosecute where necessary. And it does not matter if a quack genuinely believes that reflexology foot massages can help you with constipation (or whatever). Many people genuinely believe pyramid selling schemes can get you rich. We do not offer accreditation and state regulation to the owners of pyramid schemes – no, we educate the public about their dangers and prosecute those who profit.

If we believe the public should have some protection from quacks, the answer is two-fold: public education and prosecution. Not accreditation and meaningless self-regulation that only serves to aggrandise. And in anycase, Ofquack is a dead duck and is doomed to whither, mainly because the quacks do not want to be regulated by any sort of outside body and self-regulation cannot compell them to become registered. In short, a monumental folly.

The BDA could and should be offering more public education. Every time there is some self-appointed and under-educated nutritionist on the day time television couches, the BDA should be ensuring the producers know what unstable ground they are on. In Germany, they fire TV nutritionists who spout nonsense and self-servingly promote their own quack products. We should be doing the same here. The BDA should be ensuring that the public see dietitians as the first port of call for dietary advice – not the last, after the nutritionists nuts have filled peoples’ heads with dietary nonsense. And the BDA should be assisting the authorities where necessary to enforce existing advertising and trading standards legislation. The legislation is not perfect, but is a damn good start.

Can Andy Burman do an about turn and work with his colleagues at the BDA to this end? Let’s hope so.

13 Comments on Andy Burman Resigns From Ofquack

  1. Poor Andy Burnam, there goes his MBE, or his Knighthood. After all what else can people who so selflessly serve on Charlie’s pet projects expect?

  2. Well, it is good to see some evidence that the leader of the BDA is able to recognise the smell of coffee when he wakes up and his nose is twitching.

  3. This is, IMHO, what this bloggin’ is all about.

    Quality investigative journalism is being stolen from the dead tree media.

    Keep it up.

  4. Well, they do have a woman who appears to believe that reflexology foot massages can relieve constipation. I wonder if they wear protective clothing for that massage?

  5. As the anonymous coward that commented on the original Barbara Nash blog with the news that Andy Burman was working with the CNHC – it fills me with satisfaction to know that the Dietitians themselves were every bit as mad about this as supporters of evidence based medicine everywhere were. It was in fact only ever the leadership that were so horribly out of touch.

    Massive respect to the Dietitians to enabling this necessary move – it is just a shame Mr Burman himself could not see the folly his position without the gentle persuasion of the blogosphere and the dietitians themselves.

    Whilst one must still hold grave reservations about someone who would make such a decision in the first place, hopefully now this will herald a new era of the BDA supporting their members and restoring Dietitians as the single point of contact for all evidence based nutritional information and advice.

    Another good day for evidence based medicine – there have been a few recently. Top work Andy and everyone else who kicked up a stink.

  6. interestingly at least one registered dietitian is now marketing herself as a Nutritional Therapist in local press because she feels (I asked her…) that it’s a more recognisable term for consumers. This could have several effects; It may begin to re-legitimise a term that is currently beign discredited – it may further remove the term dietitian from mainstream use – it may encourage cumsumers to investigate their Nutrition Therapist’s qualifications – it may lead to a ‘protected title’ status fot the titles Nutrition Therapist and Nutritionist which are currently unprotected.

  7. This is very good news, but I think Mr Burman should state his reasons for resignation – for the record.
    Given his previous robust defence of Ofquack on this website one must sadly conclude the sole reason is the ‘conflict of interest’ from the organisation and its members who pay his salary.

    Rather than recognition that although one can ‘regulate’ virtually any aspect of society, when it comes to public health issues more than a modicum of knowledge is needed by those professing to be ‘fit for regulation’ – and also by those chosen to confer regulation.

    You can’t regulate alternative health as by its very nature practitioners can’t – or won’t – justify their practice in relation to conventional standards.

    Regulation gives a false veneer of professional respectability, which is only afforded the 13 ‘allied health professionals’ ( an extensive period of study (full time, usually at least 3 years) and clinical scrutiny by experienced professionals.

    It would be time and money well spent in setting up an easily accessible medico-legal organisation for the public harmed by these amateurs-who-lack-insight, rather than pursue the dreams of a deluded prince and his lackeys.
    This would give easier access to the public claiming financial compensation for their injuries.
    Ofquack is nothing more than a shell organisation, responsible for cutting out ‘striking dodgy practitioners from the register’ -that is assuming of course that they are on it in the first place.

    A shambles all round, really

  8. Hurrah – good work Andy, in helping to oust ‘that other Andy’ you’ve really surpassed yourself.

    pleased that the Ofquack chief has gone, although it doesn’t stop the organisation as a whole undermining evidence-based practice by legitimising woo – let’s bring the whole house down…!

3 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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