Royal Charter for chiropractors angers critics

Critics of complementary and alternative medicine have condemned the Privy Council's decision to award a Royal Charter to chiropractors' professional body.

November 16, 2012

According to the website of the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), the College of Chiropractors was granted the charter by the Queen last week, following a meeting of the Privy Council.

The 13-year-old college is a professional membership body modelled on the existing medical royal colleges. It oversees the delivery on chiropractic treatments in the UK, which most famously involve the treatment of lower back pain by manipulation of the spine.

The college is the first complementary medicine organisation to receive a Royal Charter. According to the BCA article, the charter signals the "permanence and stability and, in the College of Chiropractors' case, a clear indication to others of the leadership value and innovative approach the college brings to the development of the chiropractic profession".

But Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, described the awarding of the charter as "a serious mistake which debases the [royal] title as carried by all the other royal colleges".

Professor Ernst co-wrote a 2008 book with science writer Simon Singh, the promotion of which saw Mr Singh unsuccessfully sued for libel by the BCA after he claimed in a newspaper article that chiropractic treatments for infant conditions such as asthma were "bogus" and were "happily" promoted by the association.

David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, described the awarding of the Royal Charter as "a bad day for reason".

"I can only presume that it happened because of deep scientific illiteracy in Department of Health, compound by equal illiteracy in the Privy Council," he said.

But he doubted it would encourage more patients to pay for chiropractic treatments. Referring to the Prince of Wales' support for homeopathy, he said: "The description 'royal' is associated with bad medical advice already. If I want advice on the winner of the 2.30 at Sandown I might ask a royal. If I were ill I'd ask a doctor."

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