Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
Claims on www.bodywellgroup.co.uk promoted Chiropractic services.
A web page was headed "A-Z of Conditions". Text stated "All too often the current healthcare system is set-up to merely relieve symptoms, with little understanding of the actual problem, and never exploring the true cause. Ailments become more chronic and a solution is rarely found. In accordance with the ASA and the CAP Code - edition 12 (September 2010), the team of health specialists at the BodyWell Group do not claim to treat any of the conditions below because signs and symptoms are your body's way of telling you that something is wrong or your body is adapting and changing. It serves no-one, including you, to chase the symptom and treat it. It does however make more sense to the chiropractors and health professionals at BodyWell to address the cause". Ailments and conditions were listed below the text.
Text on the "Meet The Team" web page stated "Christian Farthing* Doctor of Chiropractic (Australia) Spinal Health Specialist Osteomyologist (UK) B.AppSc(ClinSc); BCSc; FCBP; M.A.O. ‘Helping you is my No. 1 priority to become as healthy as you want to be’". The "Professional Profile" stated "Dr. Christian Farthing (Doctor of Chiropractic in Australia)* is a Spinal Wellness Specialist ... Dr Christian has more than 20 years' experience in Chiropractic ... He elected not to study medicine and become a medical doctor because he felt that it does not get to the root cause of problems". The text continued to refer to "Dr, Christian".
Text on the "About Us" web page stated "Dr. Christian & the General Chiropractic Council" and referred to "Dr. Christian".
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the use of the term "Dr" in relation to Christian Farthing was misleading; and
2. the ad misleadingly implied that Chiropractic could treat the listed ailments and conditions, and whether those implied claims could be substantiated.
3. The ASA challenged whether the website misleadingly implied that the claims had been endorsed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
1. BodyWell Group stated that they had made a number of changes to the website.
2. They stated that the page on which the list of health conditions appeared was not available to members of the public. They said that the purpose of providing an A‒Z of conditions was not to imply that they could treat any condition. It was simply a list of conditions to provide information as a point of reference rather than providing treatment for the condition. They stated there was a very clear statement in every section which stated, "The health professionals and chiropractors at the BodyWell Group in Canterbury do not treat asthma or other breathing problems because difficulty breathing and other symptoms associated with these conditions are your body's way of telling you that you have something wrong. It serves no-one, including you, to chase the symptom and treat it. It does however make more sense to our practitioners to address the cause and we are able to provide you with a diagnosis. By using Digital X-rays, Digital Nerve Scans and specific Wellness testing, we will be able to provide you advice to help you gain a solution to your condition, even if that means referring you to the most appropriate medical expert if necessary".
3. They stated that the claims had been removed.
The ASA noted that some changes had been made to the website and a number of claims had been removed after BodyWell Group had been made aware that a complaint had been raised to the ASA. Although we understood that further changes were planned, we noted that the website made reference to "Dr Christian". We understood that that related to Dr Christian Farthing.
We noted that the one section of the website, which had since been removed, listed Christian Farthing's qualifications and stated "Doctor of Chiropractic (Australia)". We considered that the title 'Dr' should not be used in ads unless the practitioner held a general medical qualification or unless it was made clear that the title was a courtesy title only, recognised by an appropriate body, and that the practitioner did not hold a general medical qualification. We noted we had not seen supporting documentary evidence that the term "Dr", as it appeared in the ad, was a courtesy title recognised by an appropriate body.
Moreover, although we acknowledged that the ad stated "he elected not to study medicine and become a medical doctor", we noted that that text was located in the middle of a large passage of text and considered that it was insufficiently prominent, in the context of the numerous and repeated references to "Dr" within the ad, to adequately qualify those claims or make clear that he did not hold a general medical qualification. We also noted that the ad did not state that the title was a courtesy title.
We therefore concluded the use of the term "Dr" in relation to Christian Farthing, as it appeared in the ad, was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
We noted that the page was not intended to be available to members of the public, but understood that, when the complaint was raised, public access was available and the list had been visible. We considered that, in the context of a website offering Chiropractic services, consumers would understand that a list of "A-Z of Conditions" set out those ailments and conditions for which Chiropractic was a treatment and which the advertisers could therefore treat. We noted we had not seen any evidence in support of the implied efficacy claims that BodyWell Group could treat the listed conditions and ailments.
We also considered that any claims indicating that the practitioners did not treat the "A-Z of Conditions" listed contradicted the implied efficacy claims.
Because we had not seen evidence for those implied efficacy claims, we concluded that they were misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.
Marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment is conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. Accurate and responsible general information about such conditions may, however, be offered (see rule 12.11).
Health professionals will be deemed suitably qualified only if they can provide suitable credentials, for example, evidence of: relevant professional expertise or qualifications; systems for regular review of members' skills and competencies and suitable professional indemnity insurance covering all services provided; accreditation by a professional or regulatory body that has systems for dealing with complaints and taking disciplinary action and has registration based on minimum standards for training and qualifications. (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
We considered that consumers would infer from the claim "In accordance with the ASA and the CAP Code - edition 12 (September 2010), the team of health specialists at the BodyWell Group do not claim to treat any of the conditions below ..." that the ASA had formally considered the website's claims and had adjudicated that they were in line with the advertising Code. Because that was not the case, we concluded that the website misleadingly implied that its claims had been endorsed by the ASA.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.49 3.49 Marketers must not refer in a marketing communication to advice received from CAP or imply endorsement by the ASA or CAP. (Endorsements and Testimonials).
The claims must not appear again in their current form.