Conflict of Interests at the General Chiropractic Council

By Joy Loban (Technic and Practice of Chiropractic) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 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.

22 Comments on Conflict of Interests at the General Chiropractic Council

  1. There is discussion in the US of developing future earnings estimates for areas of college study. Perhaps if a similar estimate were provided to prospective students, then some would pursue other career paths.

    Just as an aside, I see the program is five years on a part-time basis. How much of the chiropractic program is actually relevant. There is a community college system (2 year) in the US that allows students to take core requirements at less cost than at a full university, but are fully transferable. Can a chiropractic student enroll in a similar school and reduce the costs? It would not be in the financial interests of a for profit school to encourage this alternative schooling for an alt-med degree.

  2. When I read about UK universities, that are private and still fully recognised by the government, then I am reconciled with the Dutch situation, that does not know private universities and less so recognised degrees in chiropractic. I hope that this will remain so in the future, because we now have to face some 400 ‘DC’s” in the Netherlands. They hardly speak Dutch, but consider themselves ‘doctors’!

  3. Here is something you might despair over, This is one of many units from the Scottish Qualification Authority who supervise and are responsible for all education assessment up to University level. The equivalent of O grades, A levels and college certificates like BTEC in England and Wales. What credibility can they have if this is what they produce. Love the fact it counts towards critical thinking level 6,
    whatever that is!

    • Robin

      Critical Thinking Level 6 is the same as Operating Thetan Level II.

      This involves:

      “confronting hidden areas of one’s existence on the whole track, vast amounts of energy and attention are released. Those on this Solo-audited level experience a resurgence of self-determinism and native ability. OT II unlocks the aberrative factors on the whole track that have allowed the thetan to lose his innate freedom and ability and one achieves the ability to confront the whole track.”

      Getting to OTL II only costs £5,500 which is less than a lifetime of backcrackery and about as useful.

  4. The problem with accreditation in the UK right now is that it is headed down the same route as the US, where the only thign that matters is that the curriculum is taught consistently. Specialist accreditation agencies exist for creationist universities, allowing them to teach creation “science” and still offer accredited degrees. With chiropractic, and also accredited schools of homeopathy and other assoted bollocks, we have exactly the same charade. You can teach tooth fairy science, and call it a science degree, as long as you always teach it the same way,

  5. There’s still a chance for the GCC to redeem themselves*: their Council still have to formally agree the recognition of the Manchester ‘campus’. This is an item on their agenda for their meeting on 3 February.

    * I’m not holding my breath.

  6. I am a chiropractor and a secular humanist. I am deeply dismayed by the complete denigration of my profession in this article – ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ is what it amounts to. Whilst admitting that unfounded claims have been made on behalf of chiropractic, there also is significant and mounting evidence as to the scientific validity of spinal manipulation. A more objective review of the profession should be undertaken by the FSI. I have been in practice for over 40 years and intend to continue for as long as I am able. I do not advertise and do not make unfounded claims.

      • ‘The BABY’ is the legitimate, ethical and evidence based chiropractic practice. It is this ‘side’ of chiropractic practice that has helped millions of people overcome back and joint related problems and in many cases prevented the need for spinal surgery. We are not opposed to surgery but contend that it should be a last resort, only after conservative treatment has failed.
        I am saddened that the Humanist Association, whose tenets I greatly admire, should stoop to this un-objective castigation of a health care profession that has so much to offer.

      • Hi Alan,
        Thanks for your comment. I was under the impression that ‘quack watch’ in under the auspices of the British Humanist Association. Am I wrong?
        The secondly, please visit the site of the WFC. World Federation of Chiropractic . This will give you an overview of the good side of our profession. You will also find in the links the WFC’s association with the WHO. The Chiropractic Report also makes interesting reading, reporting on the progress of the profession over the years. Another interesting site to visit is that of Dr Scott Haldeman who is a chiropractor and a medical neurologist. He is also a well researcher.
        There is apparently a new paper just out from the University of Warwick Medical School in Britain showing the efficacy of chiropractic. I have not read it myself yet but do so shortly.

      • Quack watch? What on earth are you on about?

        Anyway, a paper that shows the efficacy of chiropractic would be interesting. What’s it showing chiropractic to effective for? Perhaps you could find it and provide a link?

        Meanwhile, what do you think is the best good evidence for the specific effects of chiropractic manipulation to date?

      • My mistake again. I refer to this blog that we are writing on.. Anyway,, I have provided you with several sources for investigation. It would now appear that this blog is just out to denigrate and not to seek objective evidence..

      • Glad you’ve sorted out your confusion.

        You’ve taunted us with what you think might be good evidence for chiropractic, yet you’ve not read it yet and can’t provide a link to it. When you do have the link, please remember to post it here.

        But Warwick have published a few items on chiropractic recently.

        One press release, reporting on an update to the dreadful Bronfort report from May this year: Evidence remains inconclusive for the effectiveness of manual therapy.

        The most recent item, date 28 August, is: Cost-effectiveness of manual therapy for the management of musculoskeletal conditions : A systematic review and narrative synthesis of evidence from randomized controlled trials – WRAP: Warwick Research Archive Portal, so it can’t be that one.

        Do you think it’s any of the others there that shows the efficacy of chiropractic?

  7. Alan, I’m sorry you’re so angry.
    Good chiropractors will continue to help people and make a living in spite of your ignorance.

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