An organisation was set up last year with £900,000 of the Department of Health's (i.e. our) money channelled via Prince Charles' lobby group, the preposterous Foundation for Integrated Health, which also got a million pounds from the King's Fund. The aim is to provide a system of voluntary regulation covering the practitioners of such things as Reiki, Aromatherapy, Chiropractic, Craniosacral Therapy, Homeopathy and all the rest of the unproven alternative or complementary healing techniques; there are said to be 150,000 of these snake oil salesmen in the UK.
Inevitably, the organisation has been dubbed OfQuack, and if you click on that name in Google you are taken straight to the official website of The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, or CNHC.
From the start, this project attracted the scorn of both sides in the argument between believers or vendors of quack remedies or therapies and those who put their faith in evidence-based medicine: the professional bodies who claim (falsely) to regulate the alternative disciplines and who fear interference from the new body, and those who believe that voluntary "regulation" can serve no useful purpose.
By now it is clear that most practitioners of alternative medicine have no intention of applying for registration by the CNHC, who had hoped to register 10,000 of them during 2009. Five months after the CNHC register opened, only three professional bodies have registered and are encouraging their members to sign up to it (homeopaths, the largest group, are firmly opposed), and a very small number have actually done so. This is only guesswork; no figures are available, for having initially promised to be open and transparent in their dealings, the CNHC have now become very secretive, understandably wanting to conceal just how badly the whole enterprise is failing: their website gives no details, and enquiries are unanswered or met with vague assurances that all is well.
Even their funders, the Department of Health, who might have been expected to be keeping an eye on them, are tight-lipped and assert that they have been given no reports of progress from the CNHC and have not even asked for any. However, there are currently four requests for information lodged with them; under the Freedom of Information Act the DH is obliged to respond within twenty working days of the requests being made, so we might eventually learn something from their responses.
Meanwhile, I wrote to the CNHC's Board Chair asking why they had apparently dropped their commitment to openness. This was her reply:
Thank you for your recent email regarding the CNHC Board notes which were recently placed on the web site. Your views have been noted regarding their content.
Despite your obvious misgivings, I would re-iterate CNHC's wish to be as open and transparent as possible. To this end I have already put an item on the July Board agenda to re-look at our commitments in this respect.
I note that you have copied your letter to me to all the Board members and will, of course, also forward to them a copy of my response to you.
With kind regards, Maggy Wallace
They need a Board Meeting to decide if openness means reporting their progress?