An investigation into charities that promote complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) could dramatically reduce access to natural health approaches, CAM bodies have warned.
Under UK charity regulation, charities must meet a number of pre-defined charitable purposes. One of these is “the advancement of health or of saving lives”. It is this purpose that most CAM charities currently registered with the Charity Commission declare as their objective, arguing that the promotion of CAM treatments is a benefit to the public. However, some medical professionals and science groups – including, most prominently, The Good Thinking Society – have argued that there is a lack of reliable evidence for many CAM approaches and that this should disqualify CAM groups from obtaining charitable status.
Last year, following intense lobbying by scientific and medical bodies, the UK’s Charity Commission agreed to undertake a consultation asking if CAM charities should continue to retain charitable status.
John Maton, head of charitable status at the Charities Commission, said: “The commission has the task of deciding which organisations are charities, but we recognise that we are not the authority in the efficacy of non-traditional medical treatments.
“Our consultation is not about whether complementary and alternative therapies and medicines are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but about what level of evidence we should require when making assessments about an organisation’s charitable status. This is an area of considerable debate and it is important that we consult openly.”
“If this happens, access to low-cost, effective complementary medicine and natural healthcare approaches will be dramatically reduced – or even rendered totally unavailable”
As the consultation period draws to a close (19 May), some CAM bodies are warning that a loss of charitable status would deal a body blow to the entire natural health sector. In a special email alert to supporters, Jayne Goddard, president of the Complementary Medicine Association, wrote: “ The CMA has submitted information to this consultation, but we have been alarmed to find out that some charities (and practitioners who work in, or alongside, charities) have still not responded – and therefore risk losing their charitable status. If this happens, access to low-cost, effective complementary medicine and natural healthcare approaches will be dramatically reduced – or even rendered totally unavailable to those who rely upon them for their health and wellbeing. This attack threatens the most vulnerable people and is utterly despicable.”
Campaign group Alliance For Natural Health International has warned that the commission’s review is “extremely broad and affects a very wide range of charities that includes those providing education in the field of CAM, which includes nutritional therapy, and those providing supportive and palliative care, many within the National Health Service (NHS)”. It too has issued a call to action, urging CAM charities to make urgent submissions to the review and encourage supporters to take part too.