The Sunday Telegraph
Public to be protected from quacks’ fake cancer treatments in cross-party crackdown
Coalition of MPs to revamp laws over fears pandemic backlog is leading patients to try dangerous ‘cures’
RADICAL measures to protect the public from fake cancer treatments are under review by the Government, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.
A cross-party coalition of MPs has united in an effort to overhaul the 81-year-old Act of Parliament that authorities rely upon to police cancer cure propaganda.
The Telegraph understands that ministers have discussed expanding the Cancer Act 1939 on numerous fronts, including the policing of medically unproven diagnostics, the prohibition of dangerous treatments, and tighter crackdowns on social media posts.
MPs across the political divide have joined forces over fears that a backlog in cancer treatments during the Covid-19 crisis will lead to an increase in people seeking dangerous alternative treatments.
Modernisation of the Act will prove to be a “great weapon” in the fight to protect people who are vulnerable and gravely ill, Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, said.
“The advertisement of treatments is currently outlawed so it makes sense to tighten and expand the Act to include the actual treatments and diagnostics themselves. I have engaged the Health
Secretary on this.” Mr Browne said that he was prompted into action following a confidential letter he received from the relative of a constituent who had died following the use of fake cancer treatments.
The letter, listing the dangerous treatments sold and the regulatory changes needed to prohibit them, has been shared with Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary.
A newly-released BBC documentary details a number of individuals who have died following the use of bogus treatments.
“The Department of Health needs to review legislation around alternative cancer treatments in light of these deaths,” said Mr Browne.
Penney Lewis, the law commissioner, has said that moves to lower the threshold of criminality for online posts containing fake claims about both cancer and coronavirus treatments are under review.
Chris Matheson, the shadow culture minister, told The Sunday Telegraph that new legislative reforms can help protect the country amid an avalanche of social media propaganda.
“The Cancer Act is a fantastic piece of legislation but we know that strengthening and broadening will save lives,” he said.
“I am due to meet with constituents in the coming days who know about the pain of losing a loved one after taking deadly fake cancer treatments.
“The loss of such lives makes me upset and angry – it focuses my determination to help tighten the Act and outlaw dodgy practitioners, treatments
and diagnostics. The cross-party move to bolster the Cancer Act will save British lives – I know my part is relevant because any departments dealing with culture, data or social media are hugely relevant in this battle.”
The Department of Health and Social Care told this newspaper that the law was “under review” and that further action will be taken if deemed necessary.
“The Government is clear that we will do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable people,” a spokesman said.
“We will not tolerate the false advertising of alternative cancer treatments, and will ensure penalties are handed for any breaches of the current law.
“We continue to keep this law under review and will take further action if we deem it necessary.”
Under the Cancer Act the publication of advertisements relating to the sales of bogus treatments is punishable by up to three months’ imprisonment.
Errol Denton, a former Harley Street practitioner, hit the headlines in 2013 when he was prosecuted.
Court proceedings revealed that Denton charged sick patients £650 for consultations – boasting that he could cure their cancer with herbs and blood analysis. Westminster city council criticised his behaviour as “twisted” and “immoral”. Denton was found guilty on nine clauses of the Act and was told to pay fines totalling £19,000.
The Government noted that the Cancer Act was strengthened in 2008 to enable prosecutions to proceed without the initial consultation of the attorney general, and that while the Act was now being reviewed it did not currently have any plans to make changes.
Barbara Keeley, the Labour MP who announced earlier this year that she was battling breast cancer, said that the Cancer Act needed updating immediately, following fresh exposure of loopholes in the legislation.
“It is clear that this law needs updating for the digital age, where disinformation can rapidly spread unchecked online,” she said.