Last March I asked, “Will the government bail out Ofquack?” when it was becoming very clear that the new government backed ‘regulator’ for pseudo-medical trades people (quacks) were running out of money fast. It looks like at about the time I was asking this, the CNHC were running cap in hand to the Department of Health.
In documents I have obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it would appear that the Department of Health has agreed to give the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council a further £409,300 for the year 2009/2010 and is looking at an additional £127,750 for the following year. This money would appear to be conditional on Ofquack “making good progress against their Business Plan.”
Quite what the CNHC are telling the Department of Health is not clear. I am failing so far to get any reports from the DoH regarding their progress. The problem with FOI requests is that you have to know what documents and data are available. It is taking some time to tease that information out. So far, it looks as if there are no reports – which is worrying in itself.
What is even more bizarre is how Ofquack appear now to be rewriting old press releases that mentioned what their Business Plan might be. I have been reporting now for several years how most of the pseudo-medical trades that come under the umbrella of the CNHC have been very reluctant to participate. The homeopaths have flatly refused to take part. The Nutritional Therapists looked as if they might but then have backed out. Only the Massage Therapists have joined in any numbers. And after six months of operation, they have managed to sign up 423 quacks against a target of 10,000 for the year. Back of the envelope calculations would suggest that this number of registrants would keep the CNHC in business for a few weeks. Hence, the need for the government to chip in again if they are not to sink as fast as a lead duck.
But this new money does appear to dependent on them meeting ‘Business Objectives’. It would take an enormous stretch of the imagination to think that 423 registrants is anything like an acceptable achievment. When they started signing people up I said they would be lucky to reach 1,000 by the end of the year. I might have been over optimistic.
So it comes as little surprise to see that in the last few days, Ofquack have been busy in an Orwelian attempt to rewrite history so that it makes things look a little rosier for them. They say they now have “seven overarching priorities” and then go on to list all eight of them. The press release dated 10th December 2008 now begins with two “overarching priorities”:
- To register 4,000 complementary practitioners
- To achieve a self-sustaining financial position by the end of the financial year 2010/2011 (ie second year or operation
This is not the first time they have re-written their history. Originally, we were told that Ofquack would be supplying a ‘Kitemark’ to registrants. The British Standards Institute objected to them using their trademark and were told to stop. So, the press releases, and the rest of the site, were changed.
Further insight comes from an email I have seen between Ofquack officials and someone enquiring about their progress suggest they are confident they will sign up 2,000 pseudo-medical practitioners by the Autumn and 4000 by the Spring and will achieve their ‘self-funding’ target of 10,000 by Spring 2011.
Now, I think it pretty naughty to go back and rewrite old press releases. It does not look to me like a particularly honest thing to do. Ofquack is showing a complete failure to be open and transparent in its business. Despite pledging to post their minutes online, they quickly withdrew their first attempts and then failed to post others. They recently posted some minutes but they were so sanitised that they contained no information beyond a bunch of people met up and discussed some stuff.
The lack of accountability is quite worrying and I have discussed this before. At the moment, I see no evidence that they have had to report to anyone. I see no evidence that anyone is keeping an eye on their progress. They claim to be a regulator to help the protect the public against dangerous quacks but they refuse to discuss that tricky problem that none of those they seek to regulate have any good evidence that what they do works. It is the nonsensical regulation of charlatanism and delusion.
The UK is currently facing grave funding decisions for our health service. Cuts are going to be made quite deep by the look of things. Ofquack is a small part of that, but a commitment to cutting out such nonsense would signal a greater commitment to ensuring our Health Service spends money on treatments that are effective and embraces systems that respect evidence. Ofquack just does not fit. It is a toothless regulator that cannot do what it sets out to do – protect the public. It refuses to consider the effectiveness of the treatments that it seeks to regulate. It is happy to give a ‘quality mark’ to pseudo-medical trades people as long as they have a certificate hanging on their toilet wall to show they have been ‘properly trained’. It does not matter a jot if that training is in nonsense, discredited techniques, mumbo jumbo or disproven theories. Ofquack was set up under the watchful eye of Prince Charles and his toad eaters at the Foundation for Integrated Health. All it will do is aggrandize them – which is what Mr Windsor no doubt wants to further his bizarre ‘integrative’ agenda.
The hundreds of thousands being thrown away here may not be large in the grand scheme of things. But it is money wasted and it could be used in a much more efficient way. The first thing that should be done if the government is serious about protecting the public from charlatans and the deluded is to divert the money into training Trading Standards officers in enforcing the current laws that prevent false medical claims being made by businesses. The law is new. It is unfamiliar to TS in practice, but it would only take a few successful prosecutions to really send a message through to the full zoology of quackery out there.