New head for health watchdog


Monash University Associate Professor Ken Harvey AM is the new President of Friends of Science in Medicine

In taking on the role, Associate Professor Harvey replaces Professor John Dwyer AO, the founding president.

Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) was founded in 2011 and prides itself on being a major critic of unscientific health practices and fraudulent health claims.

It advises governments and media, provides extensive public advice concerning dubious health claims and practices, and campaigns against unethical promotion of therapeutic goods and services to consumers.

One such example is when FSM successfully advocated for the removal of private health insurance taxpayer-funded rebates for “natural” therapies that it says lacked evidence of efficacy.

In addition to its advocacy work the organisation has several work groups, with a pharmacy group coordinated by community pharmacist Ian Carr.*

 “Valuing scientific rigor is especially important in an age where unsubstantiated health claims are rampant and scientific consensus is ‘imbalanced’ by the views of extremists,” said Professor Harvey, who works in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University.

“We critique unproven and exploitive services offered by medical practitioners, such as the infusion of intravenous vitamins and chelation therapy.

“We are equally concerned about Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioners claiming that acupuncture can treat infertility or Naturopaths advocating homeopathy,” he said.

“We encourage tertiary institutions and students of medicine and health sciences to critically appraise therapeutic products and services as part of the courses offered.

“Complementary medicines provide a fertile field for students to assess the often outrageous claims made and report regulatory breaches.”

Last year the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code Council and Complaint Resolution Panel (CRP) were abolished and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) took over the advertising complaint system, he points out.

Professor Harvey said that while Health Minister Hunt signalled the measures would enable potential harms from inappropriate advertising to be comprehensively prevented, “research by members of FSM, and consumer’s lack of trust in the TGA, show that the Minister’s assertion has not been realised”.

He compared the TGA with the recently highlighted regulatory failure within Australia’s financial services industry.

“A failure to enforce the law undermines the authority of the regulator whose fundamental responsibility is to do just that. It also encourages others to break the law, leading to a race to the bottom and consumer detriment. These are important Federal election issues,” he said.

Professor Harvey is a recognised public health and consumer rights advocate.

He was made made a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 2017, “for significant service to community health and the pharmaceutical industry through roles in developing guidelines for the ethical use of antibiotics“.

See FSM’s position statement here.

*FSM work groups (coordinator):

  • Pharmacy group (Ian Carr)
  • General Practice group (Benson Riddle)
  • Regulatory Compliance and consumer protection group (Bruce Arnold)
  • Education group – health science skepticism, health literacy (Basia Diug)
  • Pediatrics (John McLennan)
  • Social Media group – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (Pallave Dasari)
  • Web Site (Ian Gibbins)

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