Summary

The New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) has prohibited a naturopath from providing any health services, as defined under New South Wales law, on the basis that that the naturopath had breached a number of provisions of the Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners in relation to advices provided by her to vulnerable patients in respect of cancer treatment and immunisation.

Background

The HCCC conducted an investigation into the professional conduct of Mrs Barbara O'Neill, an unregistered practitioner who provided services as a naturopath, nutritionist and health educator, following complaints that Mrs O'Neill was making dubious and dangerous health claims that were not based or supported by medical evidence. Some of the non-evidence based claims made in Mrs O'Neill's publications included:

  • That cancer is a fungus that can be treated by bicarbonate of soda
  • That pregnant women diagnosed with Strep B do not have to take antibiotics
  • Claims in relation to the safety and efficacy of various vaccines

The investigation found that Mrs O'Neill had limited qualifications in the area of nutrition and dietetics and that she was providing health advice beyond the limits of her training and expertise. The investigation found that Mrs O'Neill did not recognise that she was misleading vulnerable people, including mothers and cancer sufferers and that the misinformation provided had real potential to have a detrimental effect on the health of individuals.

The HCCC concluded that Mrs O'Neill breached a number of provisions of the Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners under Schedule 3 of New South Wales' Public Health Regulation 2012, including that she:

  • Held herself out as able to cure cancer
  • Dissuaded clients from seeking or continuing treatment by a registered medical practitioner
  • Engaged in misinformation in relation to services provided by her

The HCCC has permanently prohibited Mrs O'Neill from providing any health services whether in a paid or voluntary capacity.

Commentary

This decision is an important decision in respect of a healthcare regulator seeking to address the provision of dangerous and harmful misinformation to potentially vulnerable people which had the real potential to have a negative effect on their health and wellbeing.

It is also noteworthy that New South Wales has a statutory framework for regulating the provision of services by naturopaths and other persons who would not fall within the remit of the traditional regulatory bodies. Ireland does not currently have such a framework. The New South Wales approach may provide other jurisdictions, including Ireland, with a basis for the proper and effective regulation of previously unregistered individuals who are providing various services to members of the public.

A copy of the decision is available here.