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Campaigners call for university to close down children’s chiropractic clinic in Melbourne

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d1977 (Published 28 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1977
  1. Melissa Sweet
  1. 1Sydney

The UK science writer Simon Singh and the complementary medicines expert Edzard Ernst have lent their weight to a campaign against the use of chiropractic on babies and children in Australia.

Australian medical and scientific experts have also backed the campaign by Loretta Marron, a cancer survivor and former “Australian sceptic of the year” who advocates against unproved and disproved alternative therapies.

Ms Marron has documented at least 50 chiropractic websites in New South Wales that offer treatment to pregnant women, babies, and children and has called on the Australian government to close a chiropractic paediatric clinic run by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University.

The university clinic is teaching “inappropriate and potentially dangerous techniques that target pregnant women, babies, infants, and children,” Ms Marron wrote in a report she recently sent to the federal health minister, Nicola Roxon. “As this is a clear breach of consumer protection and puts patient health at risk, I request that the RMIT Chiropractic Paediatric Clinic be closed down pending an investigation into its teachings and that other similar universities, such as Murdoch and Macquarie, be investigated.”

Backing Ms Marron’s report, Mr Singh wrote to Ms Roxon urging her to “take appropriate action to protect the public in general and children in particular from unjustified and potential harmful claims.”

He said it was hard to justify the actions of chiropractors who claim to treat childhood conditions.

“Parents are being misled and short changed, while children are being exposed to ineffective treatments and potential harm,” he wrote. “The fact that unjustified claims are being offered across Australia is worrying, but it is doubly worrying that chiropractic is finding a home in universities.”

Professor Ernst, who coauthored a book with Mr Singh, Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial, also urged the closure of chiropractic paediatric teaching clinics.

“Chiropractic is based on outdated assumptions, and the evidence fails to suggest that it works for non-spinal conditions and paediatric illness,” he wrote to the health minister.

“In addition, there is plenty of evidence to show that it can cause harm. Paediatric teaching clinics that clearly target parents, who are a particularly vulnerable group, are of great concern in that they essentially graduate students in the legitimised mistreatment of babies and children by unnecessary, potentially harmful manipulation.

“It is not surprising that many paediatricians consider these therapies as little more than acts of child abuse.”

The Chiropractors’ Association of Australia declined to comment on Ms Marron’s report, and a spokeswoman added that it would take up the matter directly with Ms Roxon.

An RMIT University statement said that it has four chiropractic teaching clinics, providing about 20 000 consultations each year. Only one of these clinics provides paediatric services, with 113 children on its books.

The statement said that RMIT University, the first publicly funded institution in Australia to offer a five year degree programme in chiropractic, recognised that clinical research into chiropractic treatments had been limited.

“This is why RMIT has been at the forefront of providing quality education that incorporates the best available evidence, while promoting further clinical research into these treatments,” the statement said.

The RMIT chiropractic curriculum was regularly reviewed internally and externally by the statutory practitioner regulatory bodies, the university said.

Jon Wardle, a naturopath, researcher of complementary medicines at the University of Queensland School of Population Health, and director of the Network of Researchers in the Public Health of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, told the BMJ that chiropractic was a divided profession. It was split between practitioners who focused on evidence based treatments and others on the fringe, including some who were anti-vaccination.

He said he was concerned that shutting down university clinics could “drive chiropractic underground, strengthening the fringe element.”

Mr Wardle said he did not expect that the government or RMIT University would act on Ms Marron’s call, as “Australia probably has the highest public support of complementary and alternative medicine in any developed country.”

Ms Marron told the BMJ that she had received supportive responses to her report from several chiropractors. “They’re showing within their own ranks they don’t want to be quacks,” she said.

Ms Marron said that she had not yet received a response from Ms Roxon or RMIT University.

The university’s statement cited a recent national study showing that about one in six Australians had used chiropractic care over a 12 month period.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1977

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