Image: ABC TV. By Sophie Scott and Alison Branley.
Chiropractors around the country have been making claims they can prevent caesarean births, treat diabetes, cure cancer and even fight the flu.
More details have emerged about the nature of marketing material chiropractors across Australia have been publishing on their websites.
Medical professionals are worried the practice could be potentially dangerous for patients.
The ABC has obtained a list of the 10 chiropractic clinics which were the subject of complaints to the regulator by public health expert Dr Ken Harvey.
Dr Harvey, of Monash University, on Monday published an article in the Medical Journal of Australia calling for the Chiropractic Board of Australia to be sacked because its failure to deal with complaints and enforce advertising laws.
He said the board’s “educative” approach was not working and some chiropractors continued to break laws by spruiking misleading claims.
The board and the regulator, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, maintain most clinicians change their marketing when errors are brought to their attention.
Dr Harvey made the complaints after identifying more than 200 websites where chiropractors made unsubstantiated and potentially dangerous claims.
The 10 were a sample to reflect widespread behaviour in the profession.
Following the complaints, many have amended their websites or toned down their claims, however some websites still contain promotions Dr Harvey said were not evidence-based.
The 10 clinics are:
- Barham Chiropractic Clinics, Qld
- Newtown Family Chiropractic, NSW
- Essential Health Chiropractic, NSW
- Haberfield Chiropractic, NSW
- Blakehurst Chiropractic, NSW
- Care Clinic, NSW
- Champion Chiropractic, NSW
- Light Chiropractic and Wellness, NSW
- Back to Basics Chiropractic, NSW
- KingsWilliam Chiropractic, NSW
Chiropractors urge parents to get newborns checked.
The websites that have been the subject of complaints include a range of claims.
Barham Chiropractic in Queensland claims it is “a good idea to get your newborn checked as early as possible for any spinal health problems” and that “signs of spinal distress in babies can include, but not be limited to, colic, unusual crying, poor appetite or erratic sleeping habits”.
For pregnant mothers it claims chiropractic care can resolve breech babies “reducing the need for a caesarean birth”. The clinic did not respond to the ABC’s inquiries.
KingsWilliam Chiropractic in NSW suggested adjustments could help people fight off winter colds and flu. Its owners declined to comment.
Care Clinic in NSW initially stated on its website its “holistic healing” could cure cancer, heart disease and diabetes but removed the post after the complaint.
Dr Harvey said such claims lack “good scientific evidence” and often led to people forgoing proper medical treatment.
“We believe that this is more likely to help the practitioner build his bank balance rather than to help mothers and children.”
He said his 10 complaints were “the tip of the iceberg”.
“There’s still hundreds of websites out there that the complaints have had no impact on whatsoever,” he said.
Cases still ongoing: regulator.
In a statement, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) said four cases were ongoing and could end up before the courts.
"Health regulators are also assessing cases against chiropractors for alleged false and misleading advertising, ahead of possible prosecution in the magistrates' court," it said.
Three of the cases referred to it by Dr Harvey had been referred onwards to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which had greater powers.
A spokeswoman said the regulator closed 112 cases of claims of advertising breaches against chiropractors last year, but said overall complaint numbers were down.
She said most practitioners changed their advertising material after receiving a warning letter.
"The [Chiropractic Board of Australia] expects practitioners to make sure any advertising claims are supported by a high level, good quality evidence," she said.
"AHPRA and the board urge anyone with concerns about advertising breaches or professional standards to provide it to regulators."
Chiropractic Australia president Rod Bonello said fringe elements who broke the rules damaged the profession. "Chiropractors who make wild claims or spurious claims really do erode the credibility of the profession," he said. "In some instances where someone is flagrant ... action needs to be taken."
Mr Bonello said evidence-based care was "not an all or none thing".
"We need to be honest with patients and say when we are working in an area where evidence is unclear that the treatment is experimental or has helped some people and not others," he said.