Last month NSW parliament released its report into the Health Care Complaints Committee inquiry into false and misleading health related information and practices. Goonellabah based alternative medicine racket and religion, Universal Medicine, was singled out for its unethical practices, bogus therapeutic claims, and shameless promotion and endorsement by religiously invested medical professionals.
Universal Medicine’s dropkick propaganda division submitted three false and misleading submissions to the Inquiry; one from the scam Esoteric Practitioners’ Association, one from a line up of Universal Medicine’s frontline bullies, and one from Dr Samuel Kim, who was taking time out from blessing patients with assisted death and packing others off to *Sirius* (his religious guru’s concept of an afterlife).
Although parliament saw fit to publish UniMed’s lengthy advertorials, the parliamentarians on the Health Care Complaints Committee, including general practitioner, Dr Andrew McDonald, weren’t buying any of it, and UM’s Esoteric scam healing received a skewering, thanks very much to the contribution of University of New South Wales Emeritus Professor John Dwyer, founder of Friends of Science in Medicine.
Universal Medicine’s response to the inquiry report was predictably hilarious and hypocritical. In spite of three submissions full of indignant protestations that UM fully supports conventional medicine, UM founder, Serge Benhayon’s business partner and bully in chief, Desiree Delaloye, took to Twitter to trash evidence based medicine when the report didn’t go the cult’s way.
To recap, UM’s submissions ignored the purpose of the Inquiry, which was to examine HCCC responses to complaints about misleading health information and practices, and churned out thousands of words about the AMAZING effectiveness of complementary medicine. They went on to trash Professor Dwyer for his criticism of the abusive practice of Esoteric Breast Massage in Australasian Science Magazine, claiming his evaluation of that exploitative rubbish was ‘unscientific’. The same people buy Benhayon’s evolution denial, and his claim reincarnation and numerology are sciences. Similarly, Desiree Delaloye is invested in Benhayon selling the idea that ‘feeling’ is superior to thinking – including when patients assess medical information or seek medical care. Desiree’s academic credentials amount to a diploma in graphic design.
The Inquiry report
Universal Medicine was given a page of its own in the report in the section on ‘types of misinformation and practices of concern‘. The report dispels UM cult propaganda that the Esoteric Practitioners Association Pty Ltd is not a Benhayon scam offering sham accreditation, and also the nonsense that the Commission has dismissed all complaints about UM as baseless or vexatious.
3.4 During the course of this Inquiry, the Committee was made aware of a number of organisations and companies advertising misleading health information or providing potentially unsafe procedures…
3.27 Universal Medicine is a Lismore-based organisation which offers a number of unique treatments purportedly for the health and wellbeing of its clients. These treatments include: esoteric breast massage; esoteric chakra puncture; and esoteric connective tissue therapy, amongst others. The treatments claim to be able to help with a variety of conditions through the manipulation of the body’s energy.
3.28 The founder of this organisation does not have any medical qualifications, nor have any of the treatments been proven effective by evidence-based, scientific research.
3.29 The treatments offered were devised by the organisation’s founder and while the organisation provides courses and qualifications for practitioners, they are not accredited. The Friends of Science in Medicine explained that:
… patients are subjected to a whole series of nonsense therapeutic approaches…they claim they can massage your back and actually massage your lungs if you have lung conditions; the practitioners say they have the power to talk to a woman’s ovaries and learn about that; and they explain that all illnesses are due to past misdeeds in previous incarnations of your life.
Esoteric Healers advertise themselves as EPA accredited. Their claims are misleading to consumers because the accreditation is bogus. Universal Medicine and the Esoteric Practitioners Association are not registered training organizations. As we have said all along, only RTOs can lawfully provide accreditation.
The Esoteric Practitioner’s Association Pty Ltd website is still ‘coming soon’ since 2009. They only posted their ridiculous occult ‘code of conduct‘ after I blogged asking its whereabouts last year. However, in spite of the EPA’s promotion of their Esoteric integrity, there is still no sign of disclosure of its business structure (Serge and Natalie Benhayon are company directors), and no disclosure of course outlines or fee structures, or that the accreditation they offer is not legitimate.
If you or a loved one undertook UM courses having been misled it would lead to accreditation as a practitioner, please make a complaint to NSW Fair Trading on 13 32 20 and ask UM for a refund.
3.30 While there is little anecdotal evidence to suggest actual harm caused by these treatments, concerns were raised that patients may forego seeking proper medical advice and care. Two patients who were undergoing therapies at Universal Medicine were independently diagnosed with cancer and bronchiectasis respectively, and required proper medical intervention in order to be properly treated.
Two patients that the Commission was aware of. The patient with bronchiectasis was misdiagnosed by lung specialist, Dr Kim, who works out of the UM clinic at Goonellabah, and subjected to two years of unnecessary chemotherapy, erroneously placed on the lung transplant list and referred to an array of Esoteric numbskulls rather than a competent professional. Dr Kim has been under investigation by the HCCC since early last year. That patient is now being publicly harassed and vilified on UM’s defamatory propaganda site. Commissioner Pehm has been informed that cults harass and intimidate complainants but stated at the hearing he wasn’t sure why patients don’t come forward.
UM’s behaviour is a solid argument for increasing the Commission’s powers.
3.31 The Committee has received assurances that the Commissioner is aware of the activities of Universal Medicine and that he has received complaints concerning the treatments being offered. Final Report: Inquiry Into The Promotion of False and Misleading Health-Related Information and Practices, pp. 11 &15 (emphasis mine)
The discussion among the committee and at the inquiry hearings concerned problems with legislation that limits the Health Care Complaints Commission’s powers to investigate and act on complaints. Current legislation has meant the HCCC can only investigate retrospectively and reactively if a complaint is lodged by a patient who has been physically harmed. Other forms of harm (sexual exploitation, financial or psychological abuse) are not recognized and the HCCC currently has no powers to act proactively on complaints in order to protect patients before they are harmed.
Recommendations within the parliamentary report include:
…that a complaint under the Act can be brought ‘by any individual’ and be about ‘a health service that affects, or is likely to affect, the clinical management or care of an individual client, or the public, or any member of the public.’
And to improve public protections from healthcare scammers:
that an interagency committee be established to allow relevant regulatory authorities involved in the protection of health consumers (particularly the Health Care Complaints Commission and NSW Fair Trading) the opportunity to discuss common issues, share expertise, and conduct joint investigations.
However, my opinion is that these amendments don’t go far enough, particularly when the Commissioner showed he had no insight into the reasons why patients don’t come forward to complain. There was also the bizarre response from the Commission to evidence of blatant practices of molestation.
Professor John Dwyer on Universal Medicine
I’d like to thank Professor Dwyer personally and Friends of Science in Medicine for recommending my submission to the committee and for raising disturbing issues about Universal Medicine’s practitioners and promoters in their submission and at the public hearing.
From the hearing transcript:
If you have not heard this story, I want you to imagine that a handful of doctors and even some dentists refer patients to a New Age healing clinic—patients with quite serious medical conditions—and when they get to the clinic they meet the leader of this clinic who tells them that he used to be, in his original life, a tennis coach, but he had a vision and knew then that he had to set up an esoteric healing clinic to help patients. He tells his patients that he is the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci and patients are subjected to a whole series of nonsense therapeutic approaches—esoteric breast massage; they claim they can massage your back and actually massage your lungs if you have lung conditions; the practitioners say they have the power to talk to a woman’s ovaries and learn about that; and they explain that all illnesses are due to past misdeeds in previous incarnations of your life.
On the website the leader of this group says that he knows more about medicine and healing than anyone in the history of the world has known about it and that, indeed, he knows about a technique called chakra-puncture, which is a form of acupuncture that predates any of the Chinese involvement in acupuncture, and he can use it to treat people who have had chemotherapy and their body needs to be purified of these things. Patients go to this unit and they are shocked at what they hear so they go to the Health Care Complaints Commission and they say this is what happened. To add to it, they say, “One of the reasons we accepted that there might be something in this is that we were referred by our doctors, including some specialists.” The complainant says, “Surely, the doctors should be questioned as to why they would refer us to such a service?”
So the HCCC gets the complaints, it says, “We will have to consult the medical board about the doctors and we will look at your complaints” and it comes back to the complainant saying, “The medical board says the doctors were just expressing an opinion when they sent you to these people. They were not really endorsing this service”, despite the fact that the code of practice for doctors makes it perfectly clear that you can only refer someone in good conscience if you know the clinical competence of the people you are referring to and that that clinical competence would be accepted by the vast majority of your peers. But the HCCC’s report back said, “This is just doctors expressing an opinion”, and since no actual physical harm was documented to these patients, despite the fact that there was psychological harm and despite the fact that one patient claimed that she had spent $30,000 with them—as if robbery is not harm—and the HCCC, since January 2013 at least when these complaints have come in, have not done anything about this organisation.
To me, it is a classic example of the fact that the HCCC is crippled by a lack of capacity to act. You would have thought that a prohibition order would have gone out immediately saying, “Cease and desist. You cannot continue to do this to the public. If you continue to do that we will prosecute you”. But no. We are going to suggest today from Friends of Science in Medicine that the HCCC may not have the resources that it needs and it does not have the adequate powers, and we have made recommendations to you for five or six changes that we think would be crucial. We are recommending that there needs to be much more proactive action to stop the spread of misinformation and to stop practices that cause harm, but the definition should be broadened to make it perfectly clear that people who can almost be indoctrinated into a cult or can have psychological damage, be robbed or have a condition not properly diagnosed and treated in a timely manner because they have been mislead (sic), should be addressed…
CHAIR [Don Page MP, State Member for Ballina]: I might kick off questions by referring to your statement. To a layman, having doctors and specialists fully trained making referrals along the lines that you were talking about would give most people considerable concern. You indicated that you thought that part of the problem might be that the HCCC only forms the view that they are giving an opinion. The first question is: Are these people who are trained referring patients to people who are not trained, doing it, do you think, in part because they know what the law is? Or are they doing it because they think that the treatment that is potentially available might be helpful?
Professor DWYER: It is hard to know what the motivation is. There have been numerous reports that the organisation we are talking about, Universal Medicine based in Lismore, that some of the doctors have a financial interest in Universal Medicine, and if that is the case that adds to the problem. That has been investigated and those claims have been made many times. I am not sure whether they are true or false.
CHAIR: Would that be an ethical issue for the medical profession?
Professor DWYER: If that is the case that is a totally unacceptable practice on the part of medical practitioners. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that 99.9 per cent of doctors would be horrified to think that these people would place patients in the hands of these people. One of the doctors who was investigated and did not even get a disciplinary warning is a cardiothoracic specialist who sends patients with severe respiratory problems for lung massage from these people. Could it be that these doctors actually believe? I cannot say, but certainly when five or six doctors who are involved in this are brought to the attention of the medical board through the HCCC, it is quite appropriate for the HCCC to ask the medical board’s opinion about this. A response comes back that the doctors are just exercising their right to state an opinion about a therapy. The average layperson would be horrified to think that that is the case, but there is much more responsibility for a doctor. If I refer a patient of mine to someone, I have a big responsibility because naturally that patient trusts me to think that I am acting in their best interests and that this person is competent to do what I have referred the patient to do.
CHAIR: Are you suggesting that the HCCC legislation should be amended to tighten that up?
Professor DWYER: Absolutely.