When it comes to complementary therapies, the United Kingdom Advertising Standards Authority Ltd (ASA) is none of these. Instead, it is full of double standards and shows itself to be no authority whatsoever.
“The UK Advertising Standards Authority has shown bias and disregard for evidence when investigating the advertising of complementary, holistic and integrative medicine. It acts as prosecutor, judge and jury in one, despite having no legal authority, and publishes highly questionable “adjudications” on its website. Rather than being a balanced and independent assessment of the facts, these adjudications are more akin to a highly one-sided PR campaign against any unorthodox approaches to health care“. Freedom 4 Health
“[The ASA’s] writing does not even begin to approach a professional standard”
“The ASA lacks both the integrity and the competence necessary to claim the moral authority to regulate advertisements of homeopathy… In the absence of either legal or moral authority the ASA Ltd has no grounds for being taken seriously” H:MC21
As a trustee of H:MC21, I’ve seen how, particularly since the foundation of the Nightingale Collaboration in 2011, the ASA has tried to bully practitioners into self-censorship, and as you may have guessed, I’ve had my own encounters with the bizarrely illogical and unscientific minds at the ASA. Below you will find my response to them.
As you can see from the lively debate in the comments section of a letter published by my patients in a local paper, clearly there are two sides to this argument, and neither is about to budge. The main difference being that one side has actually sincerely tried homeopathy for themselves (despite many, if not most – including myself – having been genuine skeptics before doing so).
The other side however, refuses to even consider trying it, has too much vested interest in not ever doing so, and will therefore cling on to the pathetic single scrap of the same old discredited report, repeated ad nauseum, that they claim ‘proves’ their point (ie Shang et al that cherry picked 8 anonymous RCT’s which ‘proved’ homeopathy is no better than placebo).No matter the tsunami of evidence against them (here’s a few examples).
Not to mention the increasing popularity of homeopathy around the world.
So I leave it to readers to make up their own minds, just as my patients have and will continue to do so.
And I would like to thank the ASA for the link to my site they threaten to sanction me with, and to the Nightingale Collaboration for all the extra hits I’m seeing in Google Analytics (especially, unusually, from men aged 18-24), not to mention the flurry of retweets (@HautHom) and Facebook shares with links to this site, all of which only helps boost my Google ratings and pushed my Klout score from 10 – 35 (a Klout score is a number between 1-100 that represents your online influence – see klout.com), and is helping clients find me (I’m already seeing lapsed patients returning after being informed of this issue, as well as an increase in new patients).
And thanks especially to my patients for publishing this letter, sparking this debate, and helping to better inform us about exactly what the ASA advertising standards are, and exactly how much authority they have.
Many blessings to all,
Jenny (and thanks to Alan Schmukler for the cartoons)
Watch this video for another example of how the ASA has treated complementary therapist Dr Alyssa Burns Phd:
This video is a radio interview recorded on 16th November 2013:
Advertising Standards Authority – What authority?
To: Simon Lane, Advertising Standards Authority, email@example.com
Cc: Frank Dobson MP
Dear Simon Lane,
I refer to your email of 5th November 2013 (Subject line: ASA Complaint Investigation – A13-247166) which details a single complaint regarding 20 words on the website of a clinic where I practice:
Homeopathy … “is sanctioned by the UK government and has been an integral part of the National Health Service (NHS) since 1948” www.homeopathyislington.co.uk
As a fact, homeopathy has been a part of the National Health Service (NHS) since it was founded in 1948. Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS, promised that:
“… under the National Health Service Act homeopathic institutions will be enabled to provide their own form of treatment and the continuity of the characteristics of those institutions will be maintained…”
Various dictionary definitions of ‘To Sanction’:
“official permission or approval for an action”.
Synonyms: authorization, consent, leave, permission, authority, warrant, licence, dispensation, assent, acquiescence, agreement, approval, seal/stamp of approval, approbation, recognition, endorsement, accreditation, confirmation, ratification, validation, blessing, imprimatur, clearance, acceptance, allowance; …
Since every government in power since 1948 has continued to fund homeopathy on the NHS to any extent, it is self-evidently obvious that the Government sanctions, and continues to sanction, homeopathy.
I therefore regard your communication as maliciously frivolous and a waste of time. I consider the ASA to be a private organization with whom I have not signed nor agreed any contract. If I receive any further word from you on this issue, I will pursue you for harassment, jointly and severally, for matters including, but not limited to, harassment and malicious falsehood.
Please further be informed that I shall charge you a minimum of £120 for each hour or part thereof spent by myself, and my colleagues who may also be involved, in dealing with your correspondence.
BA (Hons), MA, BSc (Hons), RSHom
To: Simon Lane, Advertising Standards Authority, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: Frank Dobson MP
Dear Simon Lane,
I refer to your email of 7th January 2014 (Subject line: ASA investigation – Islington Homeopathy Clinic, ASA reference A13-247166) in which the ‘Issue’ is stated that:
“A complainant challenged whether the claim that homeopathy “is sanctioned by the UK government and has been an integral part of the National Health Service (NHS) since it was founded in 1948″ was misleading and could be substantiated, because he believed it suggested homeopathy was an effective treatment.”
I note that neither you nor your complainant question the factual accuracy of my statement: the statement is true, full stop. For undisputed fact to be superseded by one complainant’s ‘belief’ is neither decent, honest nor truthful; I put it to you that neither is it legal.
You do not dispute that homeopathy is available in the NHS in “certain circumstances”. Those circumstances are that a clinician treats a patient using homeopathy or refers a patient for homeopathic treatment. This is also the case for all conventional medical treatments in the NHS. As such it is therefore an integral part of the NHS.
Moreover, you state that:
“information on homeopathy published by the NHS explained the principles behind it but stated in several places that there was no good quality evidence that homeopathy was an effective treatment for any health conditions.
This is also true of most conventional treatments on the NHS. According to the British Medical Journal Database of Clinical Evidence (http://clinicalevidence.bmj.com), out of 25000 treatments covered by the NHS, the proportion of commonly used treatments that are supported by good evidence and rated as ‘beneficial’ or ‘likely to be beneficial’ is just 35%, while 57% have ‘unknown effectiveness’, are ‘likely to be ineffective or harmful’, or are ‘unlikely to be beneficial’ (my apologies if this chart is not the most recent, I’d be happy to see a revised version).
Given that the evidence base for both conventional and homeopathic medicine is largely ‘unknown’, the main difference is that homeopathic remedies are at least non-addictive and non toxic. It is for this reason that the demand for homeopathy is increasing in the face of iatrogenic disease (disease caused by medical treatment) being a leading cause of death.
Your assessment that:
“While we did not dispute that homeopathic treatment was available through the NHS in certain circumstances, we considered that the wording of the claim suggested acceptance of homeopathy as an effective treatment by the UK government and the NHS. Because that was not the case, we concluded that the claim was misleading.”
It is not for me to answer for the UK government (previous or current) nor the NHS. I represent neither. So the complaint is thoroughly misplaced and therefore wasted on me. Further, there are plenty of government reports, individual MP’s and NHS research papers who do accept homeopathy as an effective treatment, so again, please take any complaint you have with them elsewhere, as I am not the author of any such report.
Some examples of government support for homeopathy:
- In 2000, the House of Lords published a report on Complementary and Alternative Therapies, in which homeopathy is considered as one of five ‘group one’ therapies (out of thirty examined) judged to have convincing research evidence of effectiveness that should be more widely available on the NHS.
- In 2009, an objective critique that condemned the Science & Technology Committee (S&TC) report on homeopathy as “unreliable” was circulated throughout the House of Commons and the House of Lords by Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, with the aim of retaining homeopathy on the NHS. He states that personally he has failed to derive much benefit from using homeopathy, yet he has supported its use and development in the UK, and raises concerns about the Committee’s interpretation of the written evidence presented, and their apparent bias when selecting witnesses to give oral evidence. He concludes that: “these limitations make the Committee’s report an unreliable source of evidence about homeopathy.”
- Of the three MP’s who ratified the S&TC report on homeopathy, two were never present at the committee meetings and one was not even a member of the committee when the hearings were held and was due to stand down at the election shortly after. Meanwhile, an Early Day Motion (EDM 908http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2009-10/908) was tabled in parliament expressing MP’s concern about the conclusions of the Science and Technology Committee report and was signed by 70 MP’s, and the MP for Oxford West, Dr Evan Harris, who was the most vocal member of the S&TC against homeopathy, lost his seat at the 2010 election, and is no longer a member of the Government. So the S&TC report can hardly be said to be representative of MP’s views in general.
- In 2007, a similar EDM in support of homeopathy on the NHS (EDM 1240 http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2006-07/1240) was signed by 206 MP’s. And in 2011 Homeopaths were honoured at the House of Commons at a reception to raise money for more research into homeopathy http://avilian.co.uk/2011/05/26/homeopaths-are-honoured-at-the-house-of-commons/.
- Mike O’Brien, ex Minister of State for Health Services, stated in 2009 that NHS funding of homeopathy is justified (http://www.facultyofhomeopathy.org/media-3/health-minister-nhs-spend-on-homeopathy-is-justified/).
- Peter Hain, ex Secretary of State for Wales has been quoted as saying: “homeopathic medicines should be available alongside conventional treatments in the NHS.” http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/health/peter-hain-im-backing-homeopathic-2053093
Why is it that ‘anti-wrinkle’ creams are advertised on television with evidence to support them of the type “84% of 148 women agree”? The ASA appears to have no problem with this. However, you do not accept homeopaths citing NHS studies where thousands or even international studies where millions of people benefit from using homeopathy. Both cases come under the ASA’s rules for “Health and beauty”, but in each, very different standards are used.
And why is it that a therapy which has been part of the NHS longer than the ASA has existed is a “new” or “breakthrough” treatment, requiring extraordinary demands to be met?
Exactly how much ‘Authority’ do you think these kind of Advertising ‘Double Standards’ give you?
So please, as previously stated, stop wasting my time and cease immediately to harass me in this offensive and ridiculous manner. As a non-statutory body, I consider the ASA to be a private organization with whom I have not signed nor agreed any contract, nor have I funded the ASA in any way, indirectly or otherwise, by employing anyone in the advertising industry.
If I receive any further word from you on this issue, I will continue to pursue you for harassment, jointly and severally, for matters including, but not limited to, harassment and malicious falsehood.
As promised, I am invoicing you £120/hour for my time and those of colleagues who have been consulted on this issue, coming to a total of 12 hours or £1,440.00, and will continue to do so if you continue to correspond with me. Any further correspondence from you will be considered an agreement to pay.
BA (Hons), MA, BSc (Hons), RSHom
Now, who else feels like making a complaint about vaccine adverts to the ASA to see what kind of standards they hold and sanctions they apply?
Given however that the ASA is in significant part funded by pharmaceutical companies who are unrestricted when advertising to medical professionals, could it be possible that there is a conflict of interest?
UPDATE: 16 April 2014
Since tweeting a link to this page on Twitter (where some ‘skeptics’ are particularly virulent) , my @HautHom twitter account was hacked, twice, my original ASA tweet deleted (this was the only post deleted by the hacker), and a lot of spam was then sent instead. Coincidence or conspiracy? The good news however is that since fixing this and reposting, my Klout score jumped again to 41 (a Klout score is a number between 1-100 that represents your online influence – see klout.com).
Update: 30 September 2014
See here for the antidote to the ASA:
Unlike the ASA, which is a negative organisation (if you have a complaint, you go to them), with Advertising Certification, the GRCCT (General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapies) is offering a positive process, whereby practitioners can get their websites and other adverts positively certified by experts in their field as a good example of advertising. Then, if there are any complaints from the ASA, you can show them your certificate, and the GRCCT will help you fight them in the courts if needed. This service will very soon be available to all homoeopaths, and is already available to many other complementary therapists. Please contact the GRCCT direct for more information.