The Charity Commission has “failed in its duty to protect the public” by allowing charities to promote discredited therapies with no health benefits, a group of doctors said in a letter to the chair of the regulator last week.
The letter, signed by 11 senior medical experts, said that the Commission had failed to act against charities which offered no public benefit. It said these charities wasted public money by attracting donations, and encouraged people to use “disproven therapies” in place of effective medicine.
“A recent investigation by clinical scientist Les Rose has highlighted a number of disproven treatments promoted by organisations that are charities registered with the Charity Commission,” the letter said, “including charities that discourage vaccination, encourage the use of homeopathic remedies for serious conditions, and promote ‘energy healing’.
“In promoting disproven treatments, these charities – including the Vaccination Awareness Network, Maun Homeopathy Project, Gentle Touch Healing, and the Keys College of Radionics – do not operate for the benefit public and therefore should have their charitable status revoked.
“Charities like these, whose explicit aim is the promotion or supply of disproven treatments, concern us greatly. The status of these organisations as registered charities confers undeserved legitimacy upon them. Each of these organisations presents a clear risk to members of the public, both in the UK and overseas.
“Not only do these charities represent a waste of donations, they encourage vulnerable people to take treatments which are not effective and can cause harm if used in place of effective treatments. That these charities are allowed to continue operating with charitable status shows, we believe, that the Charity Commission has failed in its duty to protect the public.”
The letter said the Commission had received a number of complaints about several charities.
“We are dismayed that the Charity Commission has apparently taken no effective action to address these complaints,” the letter says.
A Charity Commission spokesman confirmed that his organisation had received the letter and would respond formally to it, and the wider issues raised.
“The Commission is required to register organisations as charities which are established for exclusively charitable purposes for the public benefit,” he said. “Charitable purposes for the advancement of health include conventional methods as well as complementary, alternative or holistic methods which are concerned with healing mind, body and spirit in the alleviation of symptoms and the cure of illness. Those organisations dealing with complementary and alternative medicines must be able to demonstrate that they are capable of promoting health otherwise they will not be for the public benefit.
“The Commission is the registrar and regulator of charities however it is not the authority in the efficacy of any and every non-traditional medical treatment. These are issues of substantial debate with a variety of opinions. Each case is considered on its merits based on the evidence available. To be charitable there needs to be sufficient evidence of the efficacy of the method to be used. The Commission must further be assured that any potential harm that might be said to arise does not outweigh the benefit identified by the method.
“The Commission expects charities to provide information that is factually accurate with legitimate evidence.”