Swainston’s / Simillimum take a hard knock

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Posted 13 December 2013

Dr. Francesca L.N. Swainston is a homeopath based in Cape Town. She has for a number of years advertised a number of health products on her website as well in the print media (in particular, Simillimum-for weight loss). Despite numerous ASA rulings, she simply ignored the requirements to furnish proof for the claims being made, and continued to mislead consumers.

A consumer activist, Kevin Charleston, reported her conduct to the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA), the regulatory body of among other, homeopaths.

Charleston wrote: “According to the AHPCSA website, Dr Swainston is registered as a Homeopath and not as a Naturopath or Phytotherapist.   Dr Swainston is selling herbal compounds (not potentised, not homeopathic) and remedies from her website.  Dr Swainston is advertising these products in many national and regional publications.  In the advertisements, and on the website, Dr. Swainston is making many unsupported medical claims.  By making unsubstantiated claims in advertisements, and in subsequently ignoring the rulings and sanctions of the ASA, Dr Swainston is behaving unethically and bringing her profession into disrepute. In my opinion, as she is a registered member of the AHPCSA, she is also bringing the AHPCSA itself into disrepute.

The AHPCSA investigated the complaint and has responded with “. . . the Professional Board: Homeopathy, Naturopathy and Phytotherapy (PBHNP) resolved at its second ordinary board meeting . . . that the AHPCSA legal counsel to issue a takedown notice against Dr Swainston’s website and internet service provider to remove all advertising . . . “, and, “. . . matter will proceed to disciplinary inquiry in 2014 if Dr Swainston does not comply with AHPCSA legal counsel’s directive to remove  all advertising from her website after issuance of a takedown notice to the relevant internet service provider”.

A very notable additional theme here is the utter lack of responsibility that magazines and newspapers have towards their readers and the ASA by continuing to accept adverts even after the ASA have ruled against the advertising. Financial greed has no limits.

Kevin Charleston has granted permission to reproduce his complaint to the AHPCSA here.

The Registrar
Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa
Private Bag X4
Queenswood
0121

RE:  COMPLAINT – A07283 – DR FRANCESCA SWAINSTON

I wish to lodge a complaint against Dr. Francesca Swainston in my personal capacity as a member of the public.

According to her website at http://www.swainston.co.za  “Dr. Francesca L.N. Swainston is a homeopathic doctor based in Cape Town”.

Dr Swainston is registered with the AHPCSA as a Homeopath – with Registration number A07283.

Print Advertising

Dr. Swainston came to my attention in February 2011, through an advert she placed in the Cape Argus (See Appendix A).  The advert made unsupportable health claims – which I reported to the Advertising Standards Authority.

The ASA ruled that, since Dr Swainston had indicated the advert would be withdrawn, there was no need for them to rule – unless the claims were made again.  See: http://www.asasa.org.za/ResultDetail.aspx?Ruling=5631. That advert (see Appendix A) was for “Dr Swaintson’s remedy for slimmers” and claims to be only available from “Simillimum” – and the web address provided resolves to Dr. Swainston’s website.  It should be noted that a simillimum is “the homeopathic remedy that most exactly reproduces the symptoms of any disease”.

In November 2011 Dr Swainston advertised in the Rapport newspaper (See Appendix B). This is the same advert as before, simply translated [into Afrikaans] and has a testimonial added.  I complained of this breach to the ASA – but they claimed to have ‘misfiled’ it – and never ruled on it.

In September 2012 Dr Swainston advertised in the Rooi Rose magazine (See Appendix C).  This advert, makes fundamentally the same claims as the original – and adds this (translated from Afrikaans) “Dr Swainston, a pioneer of natural medicine in South Africa, in this herbal guide to permanent weight loss, explains the underlying reasons for obesity and how to use herbs to make weight-loss easy and permanent”.  I complained of this advert to the ASA, and in October 2012 they ruled that the new advert made the same claims as the original and was therefore in breach of the original ruling.  http://www.asasa.org.za/ResultDetail.aspx?Ruling=6270

In December, Dr Swainston advertised in Your Family, making similar claims.  One small change is a claim  that “this natural remedy has no side-effects”.  (Appendix D)

On 11 December the ASA ruled again, in connection with the breach complaint and the request for sanctions.  http://www.asasa.org.za/ResultDetail.aspx?Ruling=6363.  They ruled: “The Directorate therefore imposes a sanction in terms of Clause 14.2 of the Procedural Guide on the respondent. In terms of this sanction, the respondent is ordered to submit the proposed amendment, original advertisement and the relevant ASA rulings to the ACA Advisory Service for pre-publication advice. This is a once off pre-publication advice.

On 27 January 2013 Dr Swainston advertised again in Rapport (Appendix E), with an Afrikaans version of the December Your Family advert.  This also repeats the same claims from the orginal advert – which had been ruled in breach. This advert has once again been reported to the ASA – but they have not ruled on it yet.  It is obvious though that this cannot have been approved by the ASA [ACA] Advisory service – because it makes the same claims).

In April 2013 Dr Swainston advertised again, in Essential magazine (Appendix F), and Table Talk 27 April 2013, and again in the May 2013 Your Family Magazine.  This advert has also been reported as a breach of the original advert – but has not yet been ruled on.

Website

Both http://www.swainston.co.za and http://www.simillimium.co.za resolve to Dr. Swainston’s website which presents itself as http://www.kidshealth.co.za.

This website continues to make the same unsupportable health claims from the print advert. Here are some pertinent excerpts:

  • Dr Francesca L.N. Swainston’s herbal formula for slimmers has been used effectively by thousands of people both in South Africa and internationally since 1991. (http://www.kidshealth.co.za/_mgxroot/page_10797.php)
  • “22.10.12 – Some experts in the field of natural medicine say that not more than 3 different herbs should be used together, but I find that up to 6 herbs can still be used with combined benefit. When a remedy contains more than 6 different herbs the therapeutic effect of each herb becomes so diminished that the benefits that it is known for don’t really apply any longer. Having for instance a mix of 20 or more herbs in a mixture leaves such a small amount of that particular herb, that it would be like saying one granule of coffee will have the same effect as a cup. The amount is so small that it does not generate a stimulatory response. One can say that coffee is a stimulant and if a substance contains coffee and it claims to have the stimulatory effects of coffee, it is not make a false statement, but the amount is so small that it is incorrect to say that the remedy has a stimulatory effect due to this tiny amount of coffee contained within it. The remedy for slimmers is more focused and concentrated than other products using this natural medicine guideline. The herbs contained within it have been chosen to address the cause of the weight gain as well and this is why the reponse is faster than usual when using natural products.  Herbal and homeopathic remedies are not the same. Homeopathic remedies are made using a substance, such as a herb, as its base which is then potentised imbuing the pill or liquid with the energy of the original substance. This is why in homeopathy the material quantity of the herb is negligible if at all present in the remedy. When using herbs as remedies, on the other hand, it is their substance that is imparting their therapeutic action and therefore quantity is important. Homeopathy does make use of herbs as organ support and drainage remedies, but they are not potentised, and this is the area of the remedies Natruslim, Natruboost and the other Natru products. Homeopathic remedies should not combine more than one substance, or herb.” (http://www.kidshealth.co.za/_mgxroot/page_10798.php)

Apart from Natruslim (aka “Remedy for Slimmers”) Dr Swainston sells many other products, books and homeopathic ‘courses’ on her website at http://www.kidshealth.co.za/_mgxroot/page_10791.php

My complaints

According to the AHPCSA website, Dr Swainston is registered as a Homeopath and not as a Naturopath or Phytotherapist.   Dr Swainston is selling herbal compounds (not potentised, not homeopathic) and remedies from her website.  Dr Swainston is advertising these products in many national and regional publications.  In the advertisements, and on the website, Dr. Swainston is making many unsupported medical claims.  By making unsubstantiated claims in advertisements, and in subsequently ignoring the rulings and sanctions of the ASA, Dr Swainston is behaving unethically and bringing her profession into disrepute. In my opinion, as she is a registered member of the AHPCSA, she is also bringing the AHPCSA itself into disrepute.

According to the guidelines for good practice on your [the AHPCSA] website (http://www.ahpcsa.co.za/pdf_files/faq/good-practice/Guidelines_for_good_practice.pdf) :

  • A practitioner may not advertise.
  • A practitioner may not perform a professional act which does not pertain to his (sic) registered profession.
  • A practitioner may not keep an open shop or pharmacy (remedies may only be compounded or dispensed for a patient under treatment by the practitioner or associate).
  • A practitioner may not use his name in an advertisement or the promotion or sale of any product or medicine.
  • A practitioner may not provide anything to any person with whom he has not had a recorded consultation.

According to the “Scope of Practice” document on the Homeopathic Association of South Africa (http://www.hsa.org.za/misc/Scope%20of%20Practice%202005(2).pdf), which is based on the ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONS ACT, 1982.

  • No person shall publish or distribute false advertisements concerning medicines.
  • Only practitioners holding a Compounding and Dispensing license will be allowed to compound his own medicine.
  • A practitioner may not use any secret remedy
  • A practitioner may not use treatment methods which do not comply with the accepted standards of the profession.
  • Any unacceptable act as determined by the board.

I request that the council investigate the professional behaviour of Dr Swainston, with regard to all the elements of these complaints.

Yours Sincerely

Appendix A (Get Slim Advert – Cape Argus – 5 February 2011)
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Appendix B (Verslank advert – Rapport – 13 November 2011)
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Appendix C (Mooi Maer – Rooi Rose – September 2012)
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Appendix D (Lose Weight for Good – Your Family – December 2012)
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Appendix E  (Mooi Maer – Rapport – 27 January 2013)
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Appendix F – (Essentials magazine April 2013, Table Talk 24 April 2013, Your Family May 2013)
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