MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

In the past, I have been involved in several court cases where patients had complained about mistreatment by charlatans. Similarly I have acted as an expert witness for the General Medical Council in similar circumstances.

So, it is true, quacks are sometimes being held to account by their victims. But, generally speaking, patients seem to complain very rarely when they fall in the hands of even the most incompetent of quacks.

Here is one telling reminder showing how long it can take until a complaint is finally filed.

Dr Julian Kenyon is, according to his websitean integrated medicine physician and Medical Director of the Dove Clinic for Integrated Medicine, Winchester and London. Dr Julian Kenyon is Founder-Chairman of the British Medical Acupuncture Society in 1980 and Co-Founder of the Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine in Southampton and London where he worked for many years before starting The Dove Clinic in 2000. He is also Founder/President of the British Society for Integrated Medicine and is an established authority in the field of complementary treatment approaches for a wide range of medical conditions. He has written approximately 20 books and has had many academic papers published in peer review journals* and has several patents to his name. He graduated from the University of Liverpool with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery and subsequently with a research degree, Doctor of Medicine. In 1972, he was appointed a Primary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh.

*[I found only 4 on Medline]

Kenyon has been on sceptics’ radar for a very long time. For instance, he is one of the few UK doctors who use ‘LIVE BLOOD ANALYSIS’, a bogus diagnostic method that can harm patients through false-negative or false-positive diagnoses. A 2003 undercover investigation for BBC 1 South’s ‘Inside Out’ accused Dr Julian Kenyon of using yet another spurious diagnostic test at his clinic near Winchester. Kenyon has, for many years, been working together with George Lewith, another of the country’s ‘leading’ complementary doctors. In 1994, the two published an article about their co-operation; here is its abstract:

This paper outlines the main research effort that has taken place within the Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine over the last 10 years. It demonstrates the Centre’s expertise and interest in a whole variety of areas, including the social implications and development of complementary medicine, clinical trial methodology, the evaluation of complementary medical machinery, the effects of electromagnetic fields on health and the investigation of the subtle energetic processes involved in complementary medicine. Our future plans are outlined.

Lewith and Kenyon have been using a technique called electrodermal testing for more than 20 years. Considering the fact that the two doctors authored a BMJ paper which concluded that electrodermal machines couldn’t detect environmental allergies, this seems more than a little surprising.

Using secret filming, ‘Inside Out’ showed Dr Kenyon testing a six-year-old boy and then deciding that he is sensitive to dust mites. Later, Dr Kenyon insists that he made his diagnosis purely on the boy’s symptoms and that he didn’t use the machine to test for dust mites. The BBC then took the boy for a conventional skin prick test, which suggested he didn’t have any allergies at all. But Dr Kenyon then says the conventional test may not be accurate: “He may be one of the 10% who actually are negative to the skin tests but benefit from measures to reduce dust mite exposure.”

Despite this very public disclosure, Kenyon was able to practice unrestrictedly for many years.

In December 2014, it was reported in the Hampshire Chronicle that Dr Kenyon eventually did, after a complaint from a patient, end up in front of the General Medical Council’s conduct tribunal. The panel heard that, after a 20-minute consultation, which cost £300, Dr Kenyon told one terminally-ill man with late-stage cancer: “I am not claiming we can cure you, but there is a strong possibility that we would be able to increase your median survival time with the relatively low-risk approaches described here.” He also made bold statements about the treatment’s supposed benefits to an undercover reporter who posed as the husband of a woman with breast cancer.

After considering the full details of the case, Ben Fitzgerald, for the General Medical Council, had called for Dr Kenyon to be suspended, but the panel’s chairman Dr Surendra Kumar said Dr Kenyon’s misconduct was not serious enough to warrant a ban. The panel eventually imposed restrictions on Kenyon’s licence lasting for 12 months.

I estimate that patients are exposed to quackery from doctors and alternative practitioners thousands of times every day. Why then, I ask myself, do so few of them complain? Here are some of the possible answers to this important question:

  • They do not dare to.
  • They feel embarrassed.
  • They don’t know how to.
  • They cannot be bothered and fear the agro.
  • They fail to identify quackery and fall for the nonsense they are being told.
  • They even might perceive benefit from treatments which, in fact, are pure quackery.

Whatever the reasons, I think it is regrettable that not far more quacks are held to account – regardless of whether the charlatan in question as studied medicine or not. If you disagree, consider this: not filing a complaint means that many more patients will be put at risk.

38 Responses to Why do patients rarely complain about receiving bogus treatments?

  • I might expand on those reasons:

    * Patients’ lack medical knowledge results in a power imbalance between practitioner and patient. The patient assumes the practitioner is a trustworthy and knowledgeable person acting in their best interests, and doesn’t feel confident in questioning the therapy or the lack of results or even any harm done.

    *Patients often blame themselves if the treatment doesn’t work or harms them. They think it’s because their illness is difficult to treat, or their bodies are flawed, or they’re not aware adverse effects are not an acceptable result of treatment.

    *They’re told the adverse reaction they’re experiencing is a ‘healing crisis’, and they’ll get worse before they get better.

    *Complaints processes are overcomplicated and gruelling.

    *They’re too sick or demoralised to complain.

    • thank you – all very important points!

    • You forgot one-
      They’re dead (and sometimes the family doesn’t know they were seeing an alternative practitioner).

      • …or worse than dead, locked in and unable to tell about a recent “treatment”.
        This lady was lucky to recover out of her locked-in state. The joker who wrung her symptom-free neck for no other reason than money, apparently not an uncommon practice, had the guts to forge her signature on a consent form. He seems to have gotten away with a settlement out of court and a short suspension.

    • It goes deeper than the physician patient power imbalance and seems to be a case of blind leading the blind.
      “Because researchers are free to bury any result they please, patients are exposed to harm on a staggering scale throughout the whole of medicine, from research to practice. Doctors can have no idea about the true effects of the treatments they give. Does this drug really work best, or have I simply been deprived of the data? Nobody can tell. Is this expensive drug worth the money, or have the data simply been massaged? No one can tell. Will this drug kill the patients? Is there any evidence that it’s dangerous? No one can tell.” BG

      • If you want more accurate information about this topic, read “Bad Pharma” by Ben Goldacre.
        However, none of this is reason to nurture quacks. Compare two explanations: drug X binds to receptor Y, inducing reaction (or cascade of reactions) that leads to effect Z, with “blah-blah-blah” of CAM! Yes, it does happen that drug does not work and not necessarily because Pharma fiddled with results or doctor is idiot. We are different enough, that one fits for all may not be the case, BUT in case of real medicine dose of drug can be adjusted, drug can be changed (taking into account objective tests), but how can you adjust dose of “blah-blah-blah” that cannot be even measured? And what will you change it to?

    • It is not easy to admit, you have been a fool. This is very obvious in smokers who have developed any of the terrible diseases associated with smoking.

  • Kenyon also seems to be rather mathematically challenged. How does one calculate a median when n=1?

  • I think there has been some research that shows the more a person “invests” in something,the harder it is to admit that it is wrong. In the case of alternative medicine this will involve many hours of time….and a lot of money.

    • good point: THE MORE YOU PAY, THE MORE IT’S WORTH

    • Laura, you’ve made an important point that is not nearly as well documented and frequently mentioned as it ought to be. It is, I think, related to the sunk cost fallacy, aka the escalation of commitment. Perhaps the following expand your point:

      1. “More recently the term sunk cost fallacy has been used to describe the phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the cost, starting today, of continuing the decision outweighs the expected benefit.”
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escalation_of_commitment

      2. “There have been several suggested reasons why quackery is accepted by patients in spite of its lack of effectiveness… Pride: Once a person has endorsed or defended a cure, or invested time and money in it, he may be reluctant to admit its ineffectiveness, and therefore recommends the cure that did not work for him to others.”
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quackery

      3. “The Misconception: You make rational decisions based on the future value of objects, investments and experiences.

      The Truth: Your decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.” — David McRaney
      http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/03/25/the-sunk-cost-fallacy/

  • I am a retired M.D., board certified surgeon and FACS. I never had anything to do with alternative medicine but have studied some topics recently. The greatest hoax in the history of medicine is the lipid-cholesterol theory of arteriosclerosis and coronary disease. This was proposed by Dr. Ancel Keys a physiologist at my medical school. Keys was at his peak and did not give one lecture to my class on nutrition. He was responsible for selecting the American battle rations of WWII, the “K ration”. The result of his influence and falsified data has resulted in a national and world disaster. This disaster includes the development of a $30,000,000,000 statin industry. The hypothesis was accepted by the McGovern Commission and cholesterol and saturated fat ingestion was condemned by the USDA (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture). The low fat, high carbohydrate food pyramid has been a disaster with obesity, type 2 diabetes,hypertension, renal failure etc. well on its way to destroying the nations health and economy. All this caused by the conventional accepted medical establishment. The damage that has been caused by statins and obesity metabolic syndrome makes any errors resulting from alternative medical treatments whether well intentioned or malevolent, trivial by comparison.

    Dr. Johanna Budwig a charlatan? She had two Ph.D.’s, one in physics and one in pharmacology. She was a world expert on fatty acid metabolism. She claimed a 90% cure rate. Her flax oil- flax meal-cottage cheese theory based upon her knowledge and understanding makes a lot of sense too.

    Dr. Jerry Tennant, Texas M.D. seems to share some of Dr. Budwig cell wall electron and polarity theory but not as sophisticated. He has an interesting story. He sells a gadget too. Claims to cure AMD in 4 days.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PnxRUw-f3Q

    Dr. John Holt, a charlatan? Dr. Holt ,a surgeon in Perth retired at 80 yrs. treated cancer patient who had been given up by others and used a combination of high freq. radiotherapy and IV suflated amino acids to reduce tumor glucose uptake during therapy.. Australian TV did a program about him and his tribulation by the medical association.

    Richard Rife—look up on you tube—died a pauper. He was a genius and was personally attacked as a quack by AMA president Fishbein.

  • I do not intend to get into a pissing contest with anyone and am not riding anybody’s hobbyhorse. The greatest hoax in the history of medicine is the lipid-cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease proposed by Dr. Ancel Keys who cherry picked his data to make a point. This was accepted as truth by a joint federal congressional committee headed by Sen. George McGovern and promulgated by the USDA.

    This theory among other factors has altered eating habits of the USA and western world. The high carb low fat diet is the cause of the the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic.

    • @Burlington

      So, can you link to some good evidence for your Rife and Budwig claims?

      • @Alan Hennessy

        As for Burlington’s “Rife” concerning Lipid / Cholesterol hoax, this absolutely true. You want good evidence, the collapse of the health care system in the US. The most over fed and over medicated population in the world, with the most unhealthy individuals… theres your evidence right there. Open up your eyes, you people are truly unbelievable.

    • The ONLY cause of obesity is consumption of more food than you need. After all humans are not able to produce carbs or fats out of thin air. Type II diabetes is more complicated, because there is some genetics involved, however it does not matter whether your diet is high in fats or in carbs: if you eat to much, you will get fat, and very probably develop Type II diabetes and/or aterosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
      Of course, there are ketogenic diets (like Atkins’s), but it is actually a form of bulimia.

      • That’s actually not factually correct because human cells are out numbered by bacteria. Bacteria strains are linked to obesity. Also look up Professor Mike Depledge’s work on obesogens and environmental toxins causing metabolism issues leading to obesity. Humans are a complex organism interacting with a complex ecosystem. Bacteria changes how we process food to the point where it is not as simple as calories in, energy expenditure out = weight. Check out the link below and the Human Gut Project.
        http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-gut-bacteria-help-make-us-fat-and-thin/

    • Burlington – you are asked to supply evidence for your claims not get into a pissing contest.

      You say Budwig claimed a 90% success rate. So do other quacks. Why should anyone believe her?

  • Has anyone thought that it is because ao many doctors are useless now that it is impossible to tell the difference.

    I have been to many NHS quacks that ignored my condition for 13yrs! I was forced to go to a “quack” who diagnosed me on all 4 conditions. My doc dismissed it saying they were rare and it was “psychosomatic ”

    I eventually got a firm dx but maybe the reason that people don’t complain is every doctor has failed them so what difference does it make?

    I had physical MRI scans and reports that showed a multitude of issues. The orthopaedic team decided they were irrelevant so told me it was irrelevant and all in my head…

    It has taken 13yrs to get a main stream doc to listen and you know what? The quack was right. Every condition he diagnosed was confirmed by the MRI!

    • I completely agree. I have seen many doctors on the nhs and all they have done is prescribed pain relief and antidepressants. I eventually saw Dr Kenyon having been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, primary biliary cirrhosis, enlarged spleen, hypothyroidism which is hashimotos, demodex infestation and too many brain lesions for my age, not to mention the anxiety and depression that came with all these and being bed bound and signed off work for a year.
      3 months after being treated by Dr Kenyon I am returning to work, my blood tests and liver function tests are in the normal range for the first time in 4 years, my spleen is no longer enlarged, my demodex infestation has cleared and my cognitive function has returned.
      Conventional medicine and doctors are very arrogant to pretend they have all the answers whilst basically watching you deteriorate.

  • I have seen Dr Kenyon myself. After 4 years spent deteriorating on the nhs under my GP, hepatologist, neurologist, rheumatologist, dermatologist and pain clinic specialists he has managed to get all my blood tests and liver function tests back into the normal range, my cognitive function has returned, I have lost a stone in weight, I am off all antidepressants and pain relief and I am returning to work having been signed off sick for a year. He never promised to make me better but he researches current developments and is willing to try things that conventional practitioners refuse to. I was bed bound and in constant pain before Dr Kenyon treated me. There are many other patients being given back their quality of life like me. Please look at both sides of this story. He never promised to cure anyone.

  • I saw Dr Julian Kenyon for a 1 hour consultation and he immediately struck me as a quack. He attempted to sell bogus overpriced treatments costing many thousands.

    If you questioned any of the treatment or diagnoistic rationale he got aggressive & patronising. The one hour ‘consultation’ was simply a hard sell, with an attempt at a quack diagnostic using equipment which he refused to explain.

    I’m an avid supporter of traditional medicine and see some amazing dedicated practitioners. However, Dr Julian Kenyon is a parasitic host exploiting the vunerable, with the full blessing of the medical council who only appear to offer a slap on the wrist when there’s a complaint against him.

    This man should be locked up. He attempts to extract tens of thousands from seriously sick people desperate for a life.

  • I am convinced that the main stream medical practice has some major holes that could be construed as quackery. Example: I had a root canal done about 20 years ago. Year after year I would get sinus problems if I got run down. After reading a book by a “quack” dentist, it appeared to me that the root canal was the cause. I had to tell the dentist that I thought the tooth was bad. After a close physical exam, he could see some problems and recommended it be pulled Another dentist never picked up the problem in a regular check up two weeks earlier. The surgeon, who pulled the tooth had to scrape the one root to remove a lot of the infection. I had no pain or swelling. When I went to an allopath with a sinus infection, he never thought to look at a tooth as a possible cause-he just prescribed an antibiotic. From all I can read, a root canal should never be done, because it will almost always become infected-it is insidious!!!!!

  • Social isolation. Chronically ill patients risk being banned from online forums and groups when they dare to criticise or even share their negative experiences about a doctor/therapist who is strongly promoted in that group.

  • Give the 100K deaths from prescription drugs and almost no improvement in cancer deaths who are the real quacks and why do people put up with MD’s who follow the standard of care which results on what you see at the malls today.

    • Ray Wnenchak said:

      Give [sic] the 100K deaths from prescription drugs

      Citation required.

      almost no improvement in cancer deaths

      Wrong:

      Cancer mortality is decreasing in the UK despite small increases in incidence. This can largely be attributed to better survival rates, thanks to earlier diagnosis and improved treatments. For all cancers combined, mortality started to fall in the early 1990s with the European age-standardised (AS) mortality rate Open a glossary item decreasing by 27% and 20% in males and females, respectively, between 1990-1992 and 2010-2012 in the UK.[1-3] The rate of decrease has slowed down in the last ten years, with the AS mortality rates decreasing by 13% in males and 9% in females between 2001-2003 and 2010-2012. This is despite small increases in AS incidence rates during the last decade. The rates of people dying from cancer is predicted to fall further (by around 17%) between 2011 and 2030 in the UK.[4,5]

      You said:

      who are the real quacks

      See elsewhere on this website.

      why do people put up with MD’s who follow the standard of care which results on what you see at the malls today.

      What on earth are you on about?

    • You claim you’re a scientist on another forum, Ray Ray, but you make unsubstantiated remarks and talk like a child. There are improvements in cancer survival rates. Also, I’m pretty sure millions have been saved each year from prescription drugs (accepted fact), such as antibiotics and — AHEM — INSULIN (come on — deny this). I think your argument has fallen apart. Meanwhile, back at the barn, you poison the environment with the chemicals that make Goretex water resistant while ‘breathing’, as you shill in a trade dependent upon cancer causing chemicals, such as PTFE

  • I have been a patient of Dr Kenyon for the past two years, I went on recommendation as my GP was not s?understanding any of my symptoms I actually thought and being given the impression that I was being a hypochondriac. Dr Kenyon suggested 2two possible diagnosis and after blood tests confirmed one of them I started treatment and now have my life back and feel 100 per cent alive and happy. I have lost all faith in my GP and the NHS. I may have had to pay to see Dr Kenynon but I don’t have to wait 4 weeks for an appointment (as I would have to with my GP) or have to explain my medical needs to a ‘receptionist to go on a list for a call back to see if my needs are urgent enough to be seen!

  • I have been on the receiving end of bogus treatments from conventional, registered physicians on more than one occasion, and I am certainly aware of others with similar experiences.

    I didn’t complain. I don’t believe there is a place, or a process to complain without making it into a big negative situation.

    I would be happy to complain if there was a constructive process, independent of the type of physician. I would be happy to complain if I felt the results were going to benefit the doctor and future patients.

  • I saw him about 15 years ago for chronic fatigue. I was so ill and desperate that I bought expensive supplements and suffered extreme pain as he rammed needles into my ear for so called acupuncture.
    I wanted to get better.
    I would have complained but didn’t have the energy to do so.

    I feel very angry that he is still exploiting vulnerable people and charging huge amounts of money

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