Blogger calls for 'immediate' action on 'harmful cult'
A WOMAN who won a defamation case brought against her by a so-called healer has urged the Council of Australian Governments Health Council to address "inadequate" protections against the man's "socially harmful cult".
Blogger Esther Rockett, who was unsuccessfully sued for defamation by Universal Medicine founder Serge Benhayon, has written to the COAG Health Council and state and federal health ministers, Brad Hazzard and Greg Hunt, among others, about the issue.
A Supreme Court jury in the defamation case last year found it was true to say Serge Benhayon was "the leader of a socially harmful cult", and that Universal Medicine "engages in misleading conduct in promoting the healing services it offers" and "preys on cancer patients", among other things.
UM's therapies include chakra-puncture, esoteric breast massage and Mr Benhayon claims on his website his "esoteric medicine" was "founded by an impress from the Ageless Wisdom".
Ms Rockett has called for "urgent consideration of Australian health authorities' inaction" on the activities of UM, which she said is a "predatory commercial enterprise".
"I am constantly asked by members of the public why and how Universal Medicine is permitted to continue its harmful commercial activities when it was found to be by the Supreme Court of New South Wales to be a "healing fraud that harms people," Ms Rockett said in the letter.
"So far the response of health authorities to complaints about its practitioners has been completely out of step with community expectations."
Since the jury's verdict, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard issued a directive that NSW Health to cease any affiliations with UM after it came to light a sexual health forum run for teens on the Northern Rivers was due to feature panel members who publicly support Mr Benhayon's teachings.
Mr Hazzard's federal counterpart, Greg Hunt, wrote to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency's CEO, Martin Fletcher, regarding "concerns for public safety in relation to the provision of certain services being provided by organisations allegedly with links to cults".
AHPRA forwarded concerns to the Health Care Complaints Commission in NSW, the Office of the Health Ombudsman in Queensland and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Safety and Quality Commission.
An investigation by the HCCC, sparked by a complaint from Friends of Science in Medicine, is ongoing.
Otherwise, no action against registered or unregistered health professionals who promote Mr Benhayon's teachings has been confirmed since the court case.
The Professional Standards Board found Goonellabah thoracic physician Samuel Kim had engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct in 2017 after referrals to UM-linked esoteric practitioners.
Ms Rockett said more should be done.
She's called for inquiries into the AHPRA and HCCC response to the jury's findings, for a legislative overhaul to give health watchdogs more power and for practitioners to make an undertaking not to promote Mr Benhayon's "misleading" healing.
She's also asked the COAG Health Council to urgently consider the issue at its next meeting.
A spokesman for the health council confirmed it was "in the process of providing a response to Ms Rockett" and said no agenda had yet been set for its next meeting.
In a statement, NSW Health said there were "a number of investigations under way relating to Universal Medicine.
"It is therefore not appropriate to comment further," a department spokesman said.
"Unregistered health practitioners are subject to a code of conduct and a failure to comply can result in the HCCC taking action if there is a risk to the health or safety of the public.
"Anyone seeking treatment from an unregistered health practitioner should consider talking to their general practitioner to ensure that the treatment they receive is safe and appropriate."
An AHPRA spokeswoman said as Mr Benhayon is not a registered health practitioner and UM was not a regulated health service, action against them would be outside the watchdog's legislative powers.
Such action, against practitioners in 16 health professions, is taken by the HCCC in NSW and the Office of the Health Ombudsman in Queensland, she said.
Mr Benhayon has not responded to an approach for comment although during the defamation trial, he stood by his teachings, including those that women were "paying the price" for equality with reproductive illnesses, breast cancer and other health issues.