Incompetence meets deception: the Information Standard and CareConfidential

(UPDATE: it says in this post that the Information Standard website doesn’t load. In fact it seems to work in some browsers but not others – it worked for me in Opera but not in Firefox.)

Regular readers of this blog will know that some members of Feminist Action Cambridge are involved in a campaign to prevent pro-life charity CareConfidential from using deception to lure members of the public to their “pregnancy counselling” services.

CareConfidential offers “pregnancy counselling” over the phone and via Internet chat. They also offer free in-person counselling through a network of over 100 affiliated crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs), which are mostly run by church groups. CareConfidential itself began as a programme of the far-right Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) which opposes abortion and gay marriage, and promote “gay cure therapy”; these people hold extreme views which are not shared by the majority of the UK public, including UK Christians. They have been repeatedly been caught giving out medically incorrect information and providing biased counselling which seems designed to frighten people who use their service out of considering an abortion (see for instance The Guardian: Abortion pregnancy counselling found wanting).

CareConfidential goes to great lengths to disguise their origins. There is nothing on their website or in any of their pamphlets to suggest that they are anti-abortion, and their website gives every appearance of offering a high-quality, evidence-based service which respects the right of clients to make an informed choice. One of the ways they make themselves appear credible is through their use of the Information Standard mark on their website:

A screenshot of the website careconfidential.com showing the Information Standard mark.

Looks legit, right? If I didn’t know what I know about CareConfidential, I would look at that and be reassured that this was a trustworthy organisation.

The Information Standard scheme was set up by the Department for Health with the laudable aim of helping members of the public to find high-quality sources of information about health and social care. Unfortunately the scheme was outsourced to Capita, a firm that was in the news a few weeks back for mistakenly telling people who had legal permission to be in the UK to leave.

So are Capita doing a good job of running the Information Standard? Are they even interested in actually doing the work the government is paying them to do? I would say no.

Evidence point 1: The Information Standard website is broken and has been for months; it sometimes takes several minutes to load, and sometimes doesn’t load at all. I was able to read some parts of their websites by saving the HTML code to a local file, removing the head section, then loading the local file in my browser, but most people would not think to do that. Since there is little other information about the Information Standard out there on the web, it’s very difficult to find out anything at all about this scheme, leaving it completely unaccountable and completely lacking in transparency.

Evidence point 2: Capita’s Information Standard team responded to our first message promptly, but did not actually address any of the concerns we raised. Our second message was sent three weeks ago, on January 25, and so far we have received no reply other than an automated “Out of office” message.

These are not the actions of a reputable, professional body with expertise in health and social care, this is the behaviour of a bunch of cowboys out to make as much money while doing as little work as possible. The toxic combination of Capita’s incompetence and CareConfidential’s deception has created a situation where members of the public seeking accurate information and / or unbiased counselling are being let down – and ironically this is just the kind of situation the Information Standard scheme was designed to prevent in the first place.


I’m pasting below the email message we received from Capita / the Information Standard team, since I think it’s important to have a public record of all the hoops we have had to jump through. I’ll post our reply, sent on 25 January, below it.

The email message we received from the Information Standard (with names removed):

Dear NAME,

Thank you for your recent email regarding Care Confidential, and your concerns regarding the information they provide in relation to their Information Standard certification.

We have investigated your comments with Care Confidential and their assessing body. We understand from Care Confidential that they have also been in correspondence with you regarding your comments, and have made a number of changes to address your concerns. At this stage we are happy that these changes comply with the Information Standard scheme rules.

As the scheme operator we do take comments and complaints very seriously and rest assured your comments have been recorded. We shall continue to monitor this organisation to ensure the continue to comply with the scheme rules.

I trust this is satisfactory, however if you have any further concerns please don’t hesitate to contact us again.

Kind regards,

The Information Standard Team
http://www.theinformationstandard.org

—–Original Message—–
From: informationstandard@capita.co.uk [mailto:informationstandard@capita.co.uk] On Behalf Of Information Standard
Sent: 11 January 2013 05:14
To: The Information Standard
Subject: Form submission from: Contact Us

Submitted on Friday, 11 January, 2013 – 05:13 Submitted by user:
Submitted values are:
Purpose: Email response
Name: NAME
Organisation: Feminist Action Cambridge
Job Title: Volunteer campaigner
Email:
Phone:
Response: Email
Select preferred meeting date:
Message:
To whom it may concern,

I would like to register a complaint regarding the pregnancy counselling organisation CareConfidential, which is using its Information Standard certification in a way which is likely to seriously mislead members of the public.

1. Organisations that display the Information Standard mark are required to make it clear which materials the mark applies to. CareConfidential has not done this. The mark is displayed on CareConfidential’s website giving the impression that it applies to all of CareConfidential’s activities. In
particular: CareConfidential’s main focus is providing counselling, either on the phone, through their website, or in person through their network of counselling centres. The Information Standard only applies to materials such as pamphlets or videos, not to counselling, but members of the public don’t know that. Members of the public are likely being mislead into believing that the counselling services provided by CareConfidential are certified and endorsed by the Department for Health.

2. Organisations that display the Information Standard mark are required to clearly state any biases or conflicts of interest they have. Until less than a year ago CareConfidential was part of the pro-life organisation CARE, which opposes abortion in all circumstances, yet nowhere on their website is this pro-life bias made clear.

3. Information Standard accredited organisations are required to present accurate, evidence-based health information. Until recently CareConfidential’s website included information on ‘Post-Abortion Trauma’, which both the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians and the American Psychological Association have confirmed is not a medically recognised condition. (A systematic review by The National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health in 2011 showed that there is no difference in mental health outcomes between continuing or aborting an unplanned pregnancy.) While fortunately references to ‘post-abortion trauma’ have been recently removed, some misleading materiel remains. In particular the disturbing video “Reannon’s Journey – recovering from abortion” is featured on the front page. It presents stories of several women who were left emotionally traumatised by abortion. The individual stories may be true but the overall effect is to strongly imply that abortion always leads to great emotional suffering. This contradicts the best scientific evidence, and the video seems to be intended to frighten women who may be considering having an abortion.

4. Here are some other examples of biased, manipulative content on CareConfidential’s website:

“Choosing to keep your baby is a very positive choice. Your baby will bring you fulfilment, joy and love as well as challenges and you will know in your heart that you have done a good thing for yourself and your child.”
-http://www.careconfidential.com/WhatAboutHavingABaby.aspx

“Adoption for some people is the most loving option, *it means you care about your child*. You are giving them the opportunity to have what you are unable to provide right now.” – http://www.careconfidential.com/WhatAboutAdoption.aspx

“Give yourself some time to really think about whether adoption could be a positive choice for your baby and for you, rather than just dismissing the idea. You want to make a decision that you will be able to live with now and into the future. Perhaps it would help to find out more information to be able to make an informed choice. A good first step would be to talk to someone about it. Ring CareConfidential on 0300 4000 999 to talk to an advisor online.” – http://www.careconfidential.com/WhatAboutAdoption.aspx

As a member of the feminist action group Feminist Action Cambridge I believe strongly that every woman has a right to high-quality, evidence-based health information, and I am very concerned that CareConfidential, with their misuse of their Information Standard certification, is getting in the way of this. I look forward to hearing from you how these problems will be dealt with.

Sincerely,
NAME

Where did you hear about The Information Standard: Other
The results of this submission may be viewed at:
http://www.theinformationstandard.org/node/10/submission/1041

This email and any attachment to it are confidential. Unless you are the intended recipient, you may not use, copy or disclose either the message or any information contained in the message. If you are not the intended recipient, you should delete this email and notify the sender immediately.

Any views or opinions expressed in this email are those of the sender only, unless otherwise stated. All copyright in any Capita material in this email is reserved.

All emails, incoming and outgoing, may be recorded by Capita and monitored for legitimate business purposes.

Capita exclude all liability for any loss or damage arising or resulting from the receipt, use or transmission of this email to the fullest extent permitted by law.

The email message we sent to Capita’s Information Standard team, in response to the message above:

Dear NAME,

Thanks very much for your reply. Unfortunately while CareConfidential have indeed removed some medically incorrect materiel from their website, the concerns I raised have not been addressed.

The most important concern is that CareConfidential displays the Information Standard mark on the front page of their website, giving the strong impression that their online and telephone counselling services, and in-person counselling provided at centres around the UK, are covered by the Information Standard mark.

I presume that in reality the mark only applies to information provided on their website, but this is not made clear. CareConfidential’s counselling services have repeatedly been caught out providing incorrect medical information and providing biased, poor-quality counselling. The current situation is that, whether deliberately or otherwise, CareConfidential uses the Information Standard mark to give false impression that their counsellors have undergone a certification process and been approved by the Department for Health. This obviously does a very large disservice to members of the public, and contradicts the whole purpose of the Information Standard scheme.

To address this pressing concern would you please ensure that, wherever CareConfidential displays the Information Standard mark, they also display a clear and prominent message stating which materiels and services are and are not covered by the mark.

Thank you very much for taking time to address this issue.

Sincerely,
NAME

P.S. Would you please inform your website administrator that the Information Standard website, http://www.theinformationstandard.org, is broken; it fails to load even after waiting several minutes.

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