Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Steve Cannane
The Theraputic Goods Administration is being criticised after revelations that last year a third of the companies found to have breached advertising rules failed to publish retractions and withdraw misleading information.
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: The panel that handles complaints against misleading advertisements for medical products and services is being criticized tonight for failing consumers.
Lateline can reveal that last year a third of the companies were found to have breached the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s rules on advertising and they failed to publish retractions and withdraw misleading information.
Steve Cannane has this report.
STEVE CANNANE, REPORTER: Fran Sheffield runs a homeopathic practice on the Central Coast of NSW and she has a controversial position on vaccination.
FRAN SHEFFIELD, HOMEOPATH: The research we have, and it is limited research, shows that the rate of protection that a homeopathic immunising agent provides seems to be similar and in some instances better than what the orthodox vaccines offer. In terms of safety they are way, way better than vaccines.
STEVE CANNANE: On her website Homeopathy Plus! Fran Sheffield claims homeopathic immunisation is effective against polio, meningococcal, cholera, whooping cough and other serious diseases.
DR KEN HARVEY, LA TROBE UNIVERSITY: There is no good scientific evidence to my knowledge that homeopathic immunisation works. There is references in obscure journals that you cannot find and there is anecdotal reports by homeopaths that it works, but it’s not in the mainstream scientific literature.
STEVE CANNANE: Dr Ken Harvey made a complaint against Homeopathy Plus! to the Complaints Resolution Panel. They review potential breaches of the advertising code in relation to therapeutic goods.
DR KEN HARVEY: The complaint resolution panel agreed there was a breach of at least nine sections of the Code and one sections of the Therapeutic Goods Act, including very serious sections such as promoting to the general public the treatment of serious diseases for which there was no evidence of efficacy.
STEVE CANNANE: The Complaints Resolution Panel asked Fran Sheffield to remove the claims about immunisation, and to publish a retraction which included the statement:
(Excerpt from Complaints Resolution Panel request)
VOICEOVER: We did not provide adequate evidence to support the claims made in the advertisement, and the Panel found that the claims were unlawful, misleading, and unverified and breached the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code.
STEVE CANNANE: But Fran Sheffield has refused to publish the retraction. She says she wasn’t advertising – merely providing information, and sufficient evidence to back up claims about homeopathic immunisation.
FRAN SHEFFIELD: I’m providing the evidence on the website. I think you’ve had a chance to go and read the historic usage and our recent trials on it.
STEVE CANNANE: But they say that evidence doesn’t stack up, it’s not good enough, it’s not strong enough.
FRAN SHEFFIELD: Well, obviously I’m disagreeing with them, and that’s why the retraction hasn’t gone up.
STEVE CANNANE: Fran Sheffield is not alone. In 2009 a third of those found to breach the code failed to comply with the panel’s recommendations.
If a failure to comply is reported to the panel, it goes back to the Therapeutic Goods Administration or TGA. But what happens next is a mystery. The TGA does not publicise what action it takes.
DR KEN HARVEY: It’s unclear why the Therapeutic Goods Administration is not transparent at all. And certainly it’s annoying to people who put in complaints. You feel that it’s hardly worthwhile and it certainly encourages the sponsors to keep on doing bad things.
STEVE CANNANE: No-one from the TGA was available to talk to Lateline, but in a statement said.
(Excerpt from TGA statement)
VOICEOVER: The TGA is actively working to improve the transparency of its regulatory processes, and will be publishing its actions relating to handling of complaints referred from the CRP.”
STEVE CANNANE: The TGA also confirmed that no legal action has been taken over non-compliance.
But reform could come soon.
MARK BUTLER, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR HEALTH: The Australian community is entitled to expect that an advertising complaints system will be timely, transparent and have teeth and I’m not sure we have that at the moment.
We’re now in a position I hope in the near future – as I have indicated to those players – of publishing options for reform that we think will address all of those issues in one fell swoop.
STEVE CANNANE: But in the meantime, practitioners are able to continue to make questionable claims about various remedies without fear of sanctions.
A recent Homeopathy Plus! email alert was headed “Homeopathy as Good as Chemotherapy for breast cancer.”
Steve Cannane, Lateline.