Diluted Thinking

in Australian healthcare

Homeopathy Plus!: Deceptive and Misleading Conduct

The Federal Court Judgement

Homeopathy Plus! is a homeopathic clinic in NSW owned and run by homeopath Fran Sheffield.
In 2012 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) ordered Homeopathy Plus! to remove certain representations from its website which was done in April 2012. Similar claims then reappeared in January 2013 after which the ACCC instituted proceedings against both Homeopathy Plus! and Fran Sheffield.

The claims made by Homeopathy Plus! and Fran Sheffield that were the subject of this court action appeared in three articles published on the Homeopathy Plus! website, and stated that a homeopathic treatment called homeoprophylaxis is effective in the prevention of whooping cough and that the medical vaccine for whooping cough is ineffective.

This matter was heard before the Federal Court of Australia in November 2014 and the court handed down its ruling on 22 December 2014. In part, it ruled that:

Homeopathy Plus! and Fran Sheffield:
  • engaged in conduct that was misleading and deceptive or was likely to mislead and deceive, in contravention of section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL); and

  • in connection with the supply or possible supply of homeopathic treatments or products and in connection with the promotion of the supply of homeopathic treatments, made false or misleading representations that the vaccine publicly available in Australia for whooping cough is of a particular standard or quality in contravention of sections 29(1)(a) and (b) of the ACL

The court also found that in reference to claims made in the articles published by Homeopathy Plus! that:

  • there is no reasonable basis, in the sense of an adequate foundation, in medical science to enable Homeopathy Plus! and Fran Sheffield to state that homeopathic treatments are safe and effective as an alternative to the vaccine for the prevention of whooping cough; and

  • the vaccine is the only treatment currently approved for use and accepted by medical practitioners in Australia for the prevention of whooping cough.

The full Federal Court judgement may be viewed online Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Homeopathy Plus! Australia Pty Limited [2014] FCA 1412.

The ACCC issued this media release on 23 December 2014 Court finds Homeopathy Plus! vaccine claims misleading.

Penalties

As to penalties, submissions are listed to be heard in February 2015. The maximum penalty for a business is $1.1 million, for an individual $220,000.

It remains to be seen whether or not any public liability insurance they may have will cover any fines imposed because it is easily argued that the claims made by Homeopathy Plus! and Fran Sheffield were acts of negligence:

Update May 2015

The hearing for penalties was eventually heard on 22 April 2015 in the Federal Court (NSW). The amount being sought by the ACCC is $62,500 from Homeopathy Plus and $12,500 from Fran Sheffield. The final judgement on penalties was deferred to allow Sheffield time to submit proof of her claim that she is experiencing financial difficulties.

For further information please refer to episode 340 of The Skeptic Zone where Maureen Chuck is interviewed about this court hearing.

Homeopathy Plus! and Fran Sheffield

Fran Sheffield is unashamedly anti-vaccination, even berating notorious antivaxxer Meryl Dorey of the AVSN about refusing to accept the anti-vaccination label:
"I love the info that the AVN provides so people can make an informed choice - and I want it to survive - but I can't tut tut about them calling us anti-vaccine and I hate feeling as though I have to support the deception."

Source: Fran Sheffield - AVN Yahoo! group, 24 February 2012

Fran Sheffield used to host a Homeopathy Plus! weekly radio program on World Talk Radio with the third show of every month having a specific focus on homeopathic immunisation and vaccine issues. Here are some examples (note: audio files are no longer available on the website):

It is not that surprising to see Fran Sheffield supporting a group that itself has been found by another government regulator of disseminating false and misleading information about vaccination. Fran Sheffield (Homeopathy Plus!) has been a professional member of the AVSN for a number of years and in some of the above podcasts states that she refers patients to the AVSN's 10 Reasons Why Parents Question Vaccination website page (and links to it in the show notes page). Fran Sheffield also promoted the use of homeoprophylaxis as an effective prevention against Meningococcal C and proudly boasted how she helped a patient about to go travelling be protected from typhoid with homeoprophylaxis.

On 2 October 2014, Fran Sheffield submitted a "formal letter of notification" to the World Health Organisation (WHO) enclosing a petition urgently requesting that homeopathy be used to treat the current Ebola epidemic, stating that homeopathy is efficacious in treating epidemics of malaria, Japanese encephalitis, dengue fever, epidemic fever, leptospirosis and that it can reduce the incidence of meningococcal disease.

Fran Sheffield is the founder of "The Do No Harm Initiative Inc". A seminar organised by the group in 2007 entitled "Keeping Them Healthy" included subjects such as undoing vaccine damage with homeopathy (Sheffield), immunising safely with homeoprophylaxis (Sheffield), and Meryl Dorey talking about the dangers of vaccines. These talks were available for purchase on DVD by The Do No Harm Initiative.

The Do No Harm Initiative website also steered people away from vaccinations and promoted homeoprophylaxis as an alternative:

We have a problem ...

  1. Epidemic and contagious diseases around the world are a constant and serious threat to human life.
  2. Vaccines used against this threat carry serious risks and side-effects as acknowledged by governments and manufacturers.

So, is there an alternative?

Yes!

Homeopathy has a viable solution.

Homeopathy has an extensive history of protecting individuals and communities in a cost-effective manner during the worst of epidemics AND without any of the risks associated with vaccines.

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20090925212752/http://d-n-h.org/

Other Practitioners

Whilst I'm sure most science- and evidence-based medicine proponents will be celebrating the above federal court judgement I can't help but notice that many other health practitioners in Australia also provide homeoprophylaxis to their patients with many other practitioners supporting it.

Homeoprophylaxis is most commonly practised by homeopaths and naturopaths. There are no government regulations in Australia that prohibit it; a situation I find somewhat incredible given the obvious potential threat to public health by people thinking they are protected from infectious disease by only water. As far as I know, Queensland is the only state or territory in Australia that is taking an active role to stamp it out.

In recent years the TGA Complaints Resolution Panel has found against a number of homeoprophylaxis providers. As a result, some health practitioners continue to prescribe homeoprophylaxis to their patients but have stopped publicly endorsing it or advertising it.

Health Practitioner Registration Bodies

There is no requirement for homeopaths or naturopaths to be registered. In fact, they don't even need a formal qualification. The main registrar for homeopaths in Australia is the Australian Register of Homoeopaths Ltd (AROH). AROH's official position on homeoprophylaxis (pdf document) is available on its website at AROH Statement on The Use of Homoeopathic Medicines for Prophylaxis. Compared to their official statement that preceded this document, AROH has become increasingly belligerent in the support of homeoprophylaxis. To paraphrase in a nutshell: "government stupid, homeopathy good". I find it somewhat disturbing to note that the current AROH President lists past research in 'Homoeopathic management of HIV'.

The Australian Homoeopathic Association (AHA) is a national organisation that represents homeopaths in Australia. Their website states "the AHA endorses and abides by the Australian Register of Homoeopaths' (AROH) Statement on the use of homoeopathic medicines for prophylaxis."

I remain hopeful that the judgement against Homeopathy Plus! and Fran Sheffield will pave the way for homeoprophylaxis to no longer be offered by any health care practitioners in Australia. A good start would be for the associations that register homeopaths and naturopaths to prohibit their members from offering and supporting this potentially harmful practice. Water is no protection against infectious disease. It seems such a ridiculous thing to have to say but remember that homeoprophylaxis is being covered in health courses and being prescribed by registered health practitioners that hold government-approved qualifications.