Now I should say firstly this post isn’t an ad hominem attack on the practitioner in question. Its a learning exercise to allow other homeopaths to understand how to respond to the Advertising Standards Authority, or perhaps more pertinently – how not to do it.
Steve Scrutton is a Homeopath and Alliance of Registered Homeopaths member. He has this website, which prompted a complaint* to the Advertising Standards Authority about some of the content. As a result of this the ASA wrote to him and challenged whether:
“1. the web page headed “Arthritis”, which made reference to randomised controlled trials on homeopathy, could discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought; and
2. the web page headed “Influenza” made claims that implied homeopathy was proven to be effective in the prevention of influenza.”
Now faced with a letter from the ASA asking for you to provide evidence most people would either i) pony up the mountains of evidence or ii) accept that they were wrong and amend their website to become compliant.
Steve Scrutton however had a cunning plan, and unlike the majority of Baldricks it didn’t involve a turnip. Steve decided that using his sophistry he would convincing the ASA that his website was simply providing editorial information to enable consumer health choices, and was therefore outside their remit. He would simply assert that he was qualified, claim Homeopathy treated pain and not arthritis (seems odd that he says that on his website then) and for an encore chuck in a few studies about influenza and arthritis. In short, his approach was mainly to channel Alec Guiness, wave his hand and tell the ASA that these weren’t the droids they were looking for.
To say things didn’t go quite to plan is a bit like saying that King Kong was “a bit of a handful”. The full ruling is here and it makes interesting reading. This is because it once more shows that Homeopaths are not good at answering direct questions, and that they want to move the goalposts and get on with business as usual. Firstly, with regards to the Arthritis claims the ASA destroyed any notion his website wasn’t marketing material:
“Homeopathy uses many remedies for people suffering from arthritis, and related illnesses” and “In my experience, I have certainly found homeopathy to be a safe and effective therapy”. We considered that, in the context of a website for homeopathic services, these statements meant the web page was marketing his
services as a homeopath in the treatment of arthritis….[…]….The web page contained contact information, and a link along the side to “Appointments & Fees”. We therefore considered the web page was marketing material, and was within the remit of the CAP Code.”
So saying you can treat something and providing a link to your service for doing this is consider by the ASA to be marketing. Who’d have thought it? The ASA weren’t finished:
“However, the CAP Code stated marketers must not discourage essential medical treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, and this included offering specific advice on the treatment for such conditions unless that advice or treatment was conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional…[…]…we did not consider that Steve Scrutton had demonstrated he was suitably qualified to offer, in a marketing communication, specific advice on, or treatment for, conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, including arthritis.”
That must hurt, perhaps they didnt get to see the certificate on his desk? The influenza claims also folded under only light scrutiny:
“We noted Steve Scrutton had provided an article regarding one study, and provided information about a second study, in which the efficacy of Oscillococcinum in treating influenza-like symptoms had been examined. However, the claims on the web page referred to the prevention of influenza, rather than treatment, so we did not consider the evidence provided to be relevant to the claim.”
Jesus wept. Well, I guess we all get ‘treat’ and ‘prevent’ mixed up from time to time. Easy mistake to make and very re-assuring for anyone who Steve gave a prophylactic to. By the time I’d read the whole ruling – which incidentally upheld both complaints – I felt almost sorry for poor Steve. That is until I noticed that he still claims homeopathy can treat
pain arthritis on his website.
Now I mention this case because its so public. But he certainly isn’t alone in thinking that the ASA ‘problem’ can be wished away, beaten with a word salad, nullified by a disclaimer, or simply be moved ‘off piste’ from the ASAs remit. This ‘blog‘ contains some very outlandish claims. And, of course a pricelist. I idly wonder if Alan Freestone is mistakenly under the impression that this is exempt?
Another very vocal objector to what she sees as ASA censorship has been Lisa Chalmers. Her website includes the following claims:
“Homeopathy can help many kinds of ill health…[…]…I have had patients with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Arthritis, Auto-immune syndromes and complex abdominal problems,”
Having previously taken down all specific conditions listed on her Homeopathy website under duress, she has apparently received the all clear to re-instate them. I was curious as to what this landmark ruling could be, and it turned out to be this. Now if at this point you are feeling confused as to why being able to state in a general manner on your website that gods love can heal would also enable homeopaths to make specific health claims again – don’t be embarrassed. I’ve looked at this ruling a number times and can’t fathom it.
The point of all this is simple.
Lay homeopaths are in a very tight spot. They claim that word of mouth from their successes gets them new patients and homeopathy is on the up. But this seems at odds with the evidence that some will risk prosecution to cling to a few words on a website, their unwillingness to engage with the ASA, and their willingness to advertise their ability to treat medical conditions that the ASA thinks should be under the medical supervision of someone properly qualified.
They are in a battle that they simply cannot win. Even if they are not ultimately prosecuted, the ASA rulings and the very public fallout like those above only further exposes the already weak arguments, the wooly attempts to redefine things to suit their own purposes, and importantly the general lack of evidence for their fantastical claims. It demonstrates that they are so entrenched in their dogma and so bloody minded that they don’t want to play by the rules everyone else has to. The damage then, is already done.
*NOTE: I was not involved in any ASA complaints about any of the above practitioners and I won’t be submitting any new complaints about these practitioners.
I did contact Steve so he could have his right to reply to what are legitimate concerns about his advertising and breaches of the CAP Code.
He didn’t reply. Although I note he did find the time to tweet a series of messages to his followers about such pressing matters as “#Roger Daltry say’s #Homeopathy saved his son’s life”, “The treatment of colds with #Homeopathy” and “#Homeopathy saving lives in Ghana”.
Its matters closer to home that are important. I’ll be writing about this and the ARH again in the future.