Saturday, 4 July 2020

Minor developments

Things are not looking good for the Society of Homeopaths (SoH), especially regarding their Professional Standards Authority (PSA) Accreditation.

There are expected to be some major developments on that front in the near future, but it is worth looking at some more minor things.

Annual General Meeting
Normally, this happens as part of the SoH's annual Conference. This year's Annual Conference in London was cancelled because of COVID-19 and instead took place online. Likewise, the AGM but on a separate date.

The SoH has made much previously publicly accessible material such as board meeting minutes, certain guidance documents and even news/opinion articles members only. This also applies to AGM minutes (the previous year's are approved at the AGM). As has been mentioned before it isn't clear what the SoH expects to achieve by this. It's not exactly in the spirit of the PSA Standards for Accredited Registers.

Previous years' Annual Reviews are still available but curiously whilst the 2019 review exists as members only content, it has not been made public. Nor has their been any news items or social media posts about it. Compare this to coverage of the previous AGM
Homeopaths have reasons to be cheerful about the future despite suffering a very difficult 2018, Society chair Judith Kiely told members at the AGM in Oxford.
It turns out that they did not. 2019 was another bad year, 2020 isn't going so well for them either. 

There was also a Members' Disccusion session...

Accreditation consultation
Whilst the SoH try to screw down access to documents, it failed to restrict access to this document associated with the AGM. It contains this pearl of information -
During this [question and answer] session the Board will provide an update on its consultation with members on the PSA accreditation.
As this blog has pointed out, the SoH board never had a mandate (it is worth reading that post) to pursue PSA Accreditation. It is possible that this refers to something else - there was talk of consulting with members over professional standards. If this is something new and separate from that the SoH have managed to keep it very quiet.

If there is a genuine consultation on Accreditation going on, it is doubtful the SoH will have provided members with accurate information. It has consistently overplayed the benefits of Accreditation (some of which have not appeared at all) and ignored the downsides. What was said in that update is a mystery. As is whether there were any questions raised by members on Accreditation as a result or submitted before hand.

If a consultation is going on, it needs to reach a conclusion before the SoH Board decides whether or not to reapply for Accreditation. It needs to tell the PSA of its decision by some point in September. Historically, the SoH has Board meetings in July and September, with some variation.

There are hints that the SoH sees supervision as part of its strategy for overcoming its current problems with Scope of Practice, especially with anti-vaccination. There are some problems with this.

A supervisor is normally a senior and experienced practitioner (but not necessarily to senior to the practitioner being supervised - otherwise who supervises the supervisor). Generally, they will have specific training in supervision. Their role is to help the supervisee learn from their experiences. It differs from coaching/mentoring in that it is evaluative. There is an element of quality control but it is not exactly policing of compliance with standards.  

It is understood that the SoH is at least putting together a list of supervisors. From what is known of those homeopaths who openly offer supervision, they are as much, if not more of a problem re compliance with standards. Some of them have a long history of anti-vaccination for example. Also, given that the standards of other organisations are different, will it be permissable to have a supervisor who is not a member of the SoH.

Making supervision mandatory would be difficult for various practical reasons but some homeopaths are highly individualistic and would probably resent supervision. 

Tacit admission?
It is speculated that the PSA came to the decision on Accreditation that they did to avoid the Judicial Review instigated by the Good Thinking Society (GTS). It would have been very difficult for the PSA to defend the 2019 Accreditation in Court. However, it has come to light is that the PSA changed their processes in the light of the Judicial Review. From the updated  Risk Register that was part of the documents considered at the last PSA board meeting -

This is strongly suggestive of the PSA recognising that the 2019 Accreditation process was flawed. The PSA and the SoH probably dodged a bullet in terms of the Judicial Review not being heard before Accreditation took place.

Homeopathy International (HINT) has been discussed before on this blog. It is tiny. It has one member and a Steering Committee of seven. From what can be worked out, most of its pronouncements are written by ex-SoH member Paul Burnett. HINT recently released a statement about the PSA. It fails to understand the function of the PSA (it is not a regulator - it is a quality assurer of organisations). To quote -

Because it is simply a list of registers the PSA AR process has no powers of enforcement outside those listed on its registers. Aside from the limited numbers on its accredited lists the PSA AR has no power to stop bad practitioners working and it cannot restrict employment to those who are part of its completely voluntary process. 
What it can do is apply Conditions of Accreditation. If an organisation wants to stay on the list of accredited registers it must obey the instruction of the PSA. These conditions of course are only applicable to the members of the accredited organisation and do not restrict members of other bodies. The extent of the applied conditions is almost without limit. The Society of Homeopaths was recently instructed that in must ‘…not allow registrants, whether acting in a professional or public capacity, to provide advice on vaccination…’ but instead ‘Registrants should direct service users to NHS and other public health sources, for example, their GP or public health department’. In one simple requirement the capacity of the practitioner to practice homeopathy is removed. HINT would view the gagging of homeopaths in this manner as unacceptable and for this reason if no other would not join the PSA’s AR list.
Whilst Burnett is no longer a member of the SoH, it is likely that his views are shared by some SoH members. Burnett was one of the number of SoH members who pressurised the SoH into seeking legal advice on the legitimacy of the Advertising Standards Authority a few years ago.

The SoH are unlikely to have to worry about HINT making a concerted effort to poach their members though.

As the SoH said in the Accreditation Report, some members were so upset by moves towards greater regulation that they resigned. To quote -
2.21 The Society noted that some practitioners were ‘not comfortable with [the] increasing degree of regulation’ apparent from recent policy directives (relating to its actions on CEASE therapy and similar) and identified a risk that ‘more homeopaths are opting to practise without formal registration’ accordingly. Although the Authority recognised that a goal of the Accredited Register programme was to bring practitioners within the regulatory assurance of an accredited register, the fact that some practitioners might leave a register rather than accept the requirements was not a reason to reduce necessary safeguards.
Membership numbers have clearly declined recently but it is not clear if it is entirely down to the above. The SoH has a problem recruiting new members. Many existing members are close to retiring, student numbers are down and it looks as if there has been a contraction in consumer demand.

Recruitment drive
Supposedly this is the time of year when students "graduate" from the homeopathy colleges. The SoH has made a fair few mentions of this on their Facebook account. 

This news item on the SoH website is more interesting in what it doesn't say. It makes no mention of being the only dedicated homeopathy register Accredited by the PSA. Which is very odd given that it has used this to differentiate itself from other homeopathy registers. Even more odd given this student survey that the SoH carried out in 2019. 59% thought PSA Accreditation was extremely important? 

It's possible to read too much into what the SoH says. It's communications often lack clarity and can be highly ambiguous.

It is difficult to guage what the SoH are thinking about Accreditation. It is sending out very mixed messages. But it needs to make some tough decisions in the next couple of months.

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