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’

- By Justin Stoneman

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.

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