Internet fertile ground for ‘quacks, charlatans, and cranks’

The chief executive of the NHS has warned about the impact of ‘fake news’ on people’s health.

Speaking at the Oxford Conversation on January 30, NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens warned that deliberately misleading health information, available through the booming ‘wellness industry’, is causing people to take risks with their health.

This comes following a select committee report which stated that fake news ‘has taken on new forms and has been hugely magnified by technology and the ubiquity of social media’.

The NHS chief warned that ‘dubious’ health products sold online can be useless or even harmful, citing not only old fakes such as homoeopathy but also new offerings such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP brand.

He also highlighted the dangers of misinformation about vaccinations, which he said has caused a steep rise in cases of preventable diseases such as mumps, which has risen from 1,000 in 2018 to 5,000 last year.

He said: ‘While fake news used to travel by word of mouth, and later the Caxton press, we all know that lies and misinformation can now be round the world at the touch of a button.

‘Myths and misinformation have been put on steroids by the availability of misleading claims online.

‘While the term ‘fake news’ makes most people think about politics, people’s natural concern for their health, and particularly about that of their loved ones, makes this particularly fertile ground for quacks, charlatans, and cranks.


‘In the 19th century Clark Stanley, an enterprising but unscrupulous American businessman, claimed that rattlesnakes offered miracle health cures, and so the original snake oil salesman was born.

‘A century later, anti-vax lies have spawned health burdens being borne by children and parents in 2020.

‘Half of the cases were in people who are in the so-called ‘Wakefield Generation’, born at the turn of the century, and who originally missed out on the vital MMR jab as a result of widespread disinformation.

‘And now we have dubious ‘wellness’ products and dodgy procedures available on the web.

‘Fresh from controversies over jade eggs and unusually scented candles, GOOP has just popped up with a new TV series.

‘Gwyneth Paltrow and her team test vampire facials and back a “bodyworker” who claims to cure both acute psychological trauma and side effects by simply moving his hands two inches above a customer’s body.

‘The brand promotes colonic irrigation and DIY coffee enema machines, despite them carrying considerable risks to health.

‘NHS advice clearly stating there is no scientific evidence to suggest there are any health benefits associated with colonic irrigation.’


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Brendan O’Rourke
Brendan O’Rourke
4 years ago

I believe Sir Simon has sought to divert attention from where it should really be – the genuine hardship and information – caused by this government. I am a clinical procurement officer in the commissioning support unit of north east London, and told have been bothered ‘unit’ that they don’t do ironing – while I assume that they continue to draw their funds.

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