31 Oct 2018
A New South Wales Chinese medicine practitioner has been convicted of unlawful advertising of a regulated health service after an investigation by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
Mr Qi Xin Chen, a registered Chinese medicine practitioner, was sentenced today in the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney after pleading guilty to 30 charges filed by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) in August 2018.
Mr Chen was convicted and was fined $1,500 per offence, totalling $45,000, by the Court and was also ordered to pay $5,000 towards AHPRA’s legal costs.
Mr Chen owns and operates a business, the Australian Natural Medicine Centre in Gladesville NSW, which provides Chinese medicine services. Mr Chen was convicted of false, misleading or deceptive advertising through the publication on his websites of several articles about the treatment of cancer.
Mr Chen was also convicted of using testimonials in his advertising as this is prohibited under the National Law1 and would have created for consumers an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, and which contained claims that a patient had been successfully treated for cancer entirely using traditional Chinese medicine.
There were numerous testimonials on his websites which also detailed treatments, supposedly provided by Mr Chen, for many forms of cancer (often targeted at those in advanced stages) and other health conditions such as asthma, autism and fertility issues. The testimonials were considered particularly shocking given they targeted such vulnerable individuals.
As part of her consideration Magistrate Keogh said material was on the website for some time, despite regulation of the profession since 2012, and the advertising guidelines being circulated since 2014. As such ignorance cannot be used as an excuse.
Addressing Mr Chen the Magistrate commented that he has a responsibility for patient safety and could put lives at risk through his actions and bring into disrepute the wider profession.
Chinese Medicine Board of Australia Chair, Professor Charlie Xue said practitioners will be held accountable under the National Law for this kind of flagrant misuse of advertising.
‘Most registered Chinese Medicine practitioners are doing the right thing. The Board has been up front with the profession that if their advertising is not compliant with the law, they will be held to account. Any advertising claims must have the acceptable evidence to back them up.’
AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher welcomed today’s outcome which sends an important message to anyone advertising a regulated health service that AHPRA will act if they break the law.
‘Making false claims about treating serious illnesses is both unethical and illegal. Advertising can heavily influence a patient’s decision-making around their healthcare needs. AHPRA and the National Boards are committed to preventing this and will continue to take action against unlawful advertising in the best interests of consumers,’ he said.
In April 2017, AHPRA published the Advertising compliance and enforcement strategy. It explains how AHPRA’s risk-based approach is applied to advertising compliance and enforcement, how it encourages voluntary compliance and deals with non-compliant advertising. It also explains that certain high-risk matters, such as this case, will be identified as suitable for prosecution under the National Law.
Responsible and lawful advertising of regulated health services is a professional and legal obligation.
AHPRA and the National Boards that regulate Australia’s registered health practitioners have published Guidelines on advertising regulated health services to help health practitioners and service providers understand their obligations under the National Law, along with additional resources to help understand the do’s and don’ts of advertising.
Anyone with concerns about the advertising of regulated health services should contact AHPRA on 1300 419 495 or visit our website www.ahpra.gov.au.
Footnote: This outcome was appealed. The outcome of the appeal can be read here.