Chiropractor found guilty of Unacceptable Professional Conduct for his website linking to other practitioners’ statements about the benefits of chiropractic care; Practitioner responsible for statements even in the absence of explicit endorsement or promotion.

Implications

Practitioners should consider the implications of the General Chiropractic Council’s (GCC) finding of Unacceptable Professional Conduct in situations where website links, however innocent, may be associated with their own practice. The practitioner will be held responsible for such links and held to account for their contents. Depending on the facts, the regulatory body should be minded to impose a lesser sanction if the practitioner's actions are innocent.

Background

In June 2009 the Practitioner's website had a temporary link to the website of an American chiropractor, Dr Martyn Carlson. The Practitioner considered that the links were a means of gaining access to information only and alternative views on common health complaints. Although the Practitioner had considered these links, he was not endorsing the information provided by Dr Carlson. Accordingly, the Practitioner contended that he should not be held responsible for the links' contents and accuracy.

Decision

On 23 May 2011 the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) of the GCC determined that the Practitioner was guilty of Unacceptable Professional Conduct. The PCC relied on the GCC's Code of Practice (section C1.6), which regulates the publicity of practices.

The GCC considered that the linked statements made by Dr Carlson were not supported by appropriate medical evidence. They purportedly put pressure on members of the public to seek chiropractic care and, more particularly, chiropractic advice and treatment for pregnant women and their children. The PCC determined that the Practitioner had “permitted his website to contain [such information]”, which was considered as causing alarm to the public.

On 1 March 2012 the PCC held a hearing to consider mitigation and sanction. The PCC had four possible sanctions to consider:

  1. Admonishment
  2. A conditions of practice order
  3. Suspension
  4. Removal from the register

The PCC were asked to consider the appropriateness of any sanction in order to balance public interest, proportionality and reasonableness. Based on the evidence and submissions, the PCC found that the Practitioner was held in high esteem by his patients and he did not at any stage put pressure on pregnant patients or children to receive treatment. He had removed the website links and confirmed that he understood that there must be no repetition of the incident. The Practitioner was able to provide evidence of insight. On the basis of the evidence, the PCC imposed an admonishment.