#MEAction UK’s letter to the BBC over the show Dragons’ Den

We are writing to express our deep concerns about a segment featured on an episode of Dragons’ Den, which aired on BBC1 on Jan 18th 2024. The episode in question showcased a product “Acu Seeds” that had a back story where the entrepreneur said she “believed they had aided in her recovery of ME/CFS”. This is a complex condition with significant impact on those who suffer from it, and currently no treatment or cure is recognised by the NICE Guideline on ME/CFS (NG206) [1]. 

While Dragons’ Den is known for promoting innovative ideas and entrepreneurship, it is imperative that this platform not be used to endorse products that lack scientific backing, especially those related to health and well-being. The featured product is based on pseudo-scientific principles and lacks any verifiable evidence of its efficacy.

It is distressing to see such products presented uncritically, particularly on a widely watched and influential platform. This not only misleads the public but also potentially takes financial advantage of vulnerable individuals desperately seeking relief from a debilitating condition.

We recognise that the product was never explicitly referred to as a cure on the show, but it was presented in such a way that would lead viewers to the conclusion that it could be used as a potential cure. This can be seen not only from hundreds of patient’s social media posts, but also the way the story was reported by other news organisations, who clearly made the link to the product being a “cure”. [2][3]

This episode is highly damaging to a patient group that is repeatedly calling for investment into biomedical research and the episode just reinforces in the public’s mind that ME/CFS can be cured by junk science so is likely not a “real disease”.

No effort was made by the Dragons to question the efficacy of the product, nor did anyone enquire about clinical trials that the product may have undergone. Disappointingly, all Dragons jumped to making an offer once they heard the 90% profit margin of this product cynically described as brought to market to “help other people”.

In the few days since the episode aired we have seen:

  • Many reports of friends and family of ME patients contact them recommending the “cure I’ve seen on TV”.
  • Patients with ME having them preemptively bought for them by family members as they want to help “cure their ME”.
  • GPs reporting that patients have enquired about them and if they should buy them.[4]
  • Sales of the product in one night surpassed the previous two years.[5]
  • Multiple news stories that link it to a cure.[2][3]
  • The BBC YouTube Channel uses the description “From ME to Ear Seeds” when sharing a clip of this episode, implying a link between the two. [6]

We urge you to consider the following actions:

  1. Review and Revise Screening Processes: Implement more rigorous vetting procedures for health-related products, ensuring they are supported by scientific evidence and have undergone appropriate testing.
  2. Educational Segment: Consider airing a follow-up segment that educates viewers about ME, including current scientific understanding and evidence-based approaches to management.
  3. Issue a Public Statement: Acknowledge the oversight and clarify the programme’s stance on promoting scientifically-backed health products.

As supporters of responsible broadcasting, we hope you take these concerns seriously and take appropriate steps to address and further prevent the dissemination of harmful misinformation.

Patients with ME have suffered decades of sham science marketed at them, taking financial advantage of a desperate and disadvantaged group. A group that all too often has a very limited income. In this instance we feel the BBC has fallen well below the standard required in presenting information.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Bailey
Denise Spreag
Janet Sylvester

#MEAction UK
Registered charity: 1202130

[1] https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng206 
[2] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12982255/dragons-den-entrepreneur-chinese-ear-seed-therapy-chronic-fatigue-syndrome.html
[3] https://www.thesun.co.uk/tv/25413762/giselle-boxers-ear-seeds-dragons-den/
[4] https://twitter.com/padsbigsis/status/1748461930556043402
[5] https://twitter.com/Michaeltikus/status/1748756326988075494
[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=widhPSg9tKU 

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2 thoughts on “#MEAction UK’s letter to the BBC over the show Dragons’ Den”

  1. Can’t believe the level of ignorance aimed at people like me with ME. Due to this, patients latch onto anything that might Improve their condition no matter how ridiculous,, like ear seeds, promoted on Dragons Den or that which is obviously extortion,like ear seeds promoted on Dragons Den. Really surprised at BBC for faciliating this bare faced mugging of very ill people, chasing an impossible dream of recovery.
    Suggestion for further episode. – Once upon a time there were three bears …….

  2. This programme has really upset and angered me. I have suffered with ME for 16 years. Due to complications of ME I now have multiple illnesses that I juggle on a daily basis. I am very positive and do so much to help myself but ridiculous statements that these seeds had cured this person, I can only surmise they didn’t have ME to begin with. There is no cure for ME at present.it is a very serious debilitating painful illness. I have lost friends who died due to ME or complications due to ME. I feel The Dragons should make a statement on the show. Apologising to every ME sufferer. Sorry I can’t write anymore as today is a bad day for me and I am in bed struggling with agonising pain etc. Kind regards.

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