The health regulatory agency has been criticised for not acting against the Chiropractic Board of Australia, which has been accused of failing to resolve hundreds of consumer complaints.
Ken Harvey, adjunct associate professor in the department of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Monash University, says the board should be reconstituted after failing to act on hundreds of complaints about chiropractors that wrongfully purport to treat illnesses and improve outcomes for pregnant women.
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency which supports the board has also come under fire, with Dr Harvey insisting it too has failed to perform its function of protecting the public.
‘Both AHPRA and the board have got something to answer for,’ Dr Harvey told AAP.
‘The board needs to be reconstituted and AHPRA also needs some looking at to see why they’ve done nothing over all this time.’
Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday, Dr Harvey says the board has never published any determinations about the complaints it’s received and whether they breached the law.
It’s never named offenders, has never required the correction of serious misleading information and has failed to correct websites he’s complained about.
Despite chiropractors having the highest rate of advertising complaints of all practitioners, no penalties or disciplinary action appear to have been applied, Dr Harvey says.
The board had failed to protect the public from misleading and deceptive conduct, with many chiropractors making claims that aren’t supported by scientific evidence.
‘We can’t have a lot of confidence in the current board,’ Dr Harvey said.
‘It’s time something happened.’
While fatalities and serious injuries are rare, chiropractic isn’t completely safe, Dr Harvey says.
He is also concerned consumers are being taken for a ride, paying for treatments that aren’t proven to do anything but ‘improve the bank balance of the chiropractor concerned’.
The Doctors Reform Society has also weighed in, urging the federal government ‘to either require AHPRA to act for the safety of patients or, if AHPRA does not currently have the necessary authority, to legislate so that it does’.
‘The Chiropractic Board should exert their authority to protect the public or go,’ president Peter Davoren said.
Consumers Health Forum chief executive Leanne Wells said there were serious questions about the performance of both agencies.
‘It is no laughing matter that the agencies purportedly established to protect consumers have shown, by their absence of effective action, little sign of putting patient interests first.’
AHPRA said Dr Harvey had referred 10 cases to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Of those, three had already been raised by the agency with ACCC, four were subject to ongoing regulatory action and three were closed after advertising was amended to comply with the law.
The agency and the board deal with advertising breaches by writing to chiropractors asking them to remove or amend the ads.
The vast majority responded to the first warning and amended their advertising, AHPRA said.
‘While most matters are effectively dealt with by health regulators under the national law, the ACCC has agreed to explore a small number of matters which appear to be more serious,’ the agency told AAP in a statement.
The ACCC was also considering ‘a number’ of referrals from AHPRA, it said.
Complaints about advertising breaches had dropped from 547 to 300 in the 2014/15 financial year from the previous year.
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