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BBC adds clarification to Dragons’ Den episode amid concern raised by ME groups

Dragons’ Den (BBC Studios/Simon Pantling/PA)
Dragons’ Den (BBC Studios/Simon Pantling/PA)

The BBC has added a clarification to an episode of Dragons’ Den after concerns were raised the show promoted “unfounded” claims that a product could help myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

In the episode, which aired on January 18, businesswoman Giselle Boxer said she had used “diet, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and ear seeds” to aid her recovery from ME, and had turned the latter idea into the brand Acu Seeds.

After ME campaign groups complained about the pitch, the broadcaster took the episode off its streaming platform so it could review its contents.

On Saturday, a BBC spokesperson said: “Following a review of the episode, a clarification has been added to the programme on iPlayer to address the concerns raised.

“It reads: Acu Seeds are not intended as a cure for any medical condition and advice should always be sought from a qualified healthcare provider about any health concerns.”

There is also a note in the information section of the episode to highlight that the programme has been edited since broadcast.

ME is a long-term condition with a wide range of symptoms including extreme tiredness, sleep issues and concentration problems, according to the NHS website.

It states that while there is currently no cure for the condition, there are treatments that may help manage it.

During the business show, the Sheffield-based businesswoman told the potential investors that she had established her Acu Seeds product after seeking treatments when she was diagnosed with ME at the age of 26.

She said: “Four years ago I was diagnosed with ME. I went from working in a top advertising agency with a busy social life and exercising regularly to being mostly housebound, unable to walk for more than five minutes without having to get back into bed.

“I was told by doctors that I would never recover, work again or have children.

“I went on a personal healing journey using diet, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and ear seeds. Using this combination, I believe, aided my recovery within 12 months.”

Her pitch to the Dragons produced a historic moment for the show as all six put in an offer for her business, which is described as a “DIY needle-free ear acupuncture for anxiety, migraines, hormonal issues, insomnia, weight loss and more”.

After hearing their offers, she decided to pick tech entrepreneur Steven Bartlett to invest in her business.

Dragons’ Den star Steven Bartlett (Ian West/PA)

Following the episode, an open letter signed by ME campaign groups to Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairwoman Dame Caroline Dinenage and Health and Social Care Committee chairman Steve Brine said they were “very concerned” that the way in which her pitch was presented suggested the product was “responsible for her recovery and should therefore be considered an effective treatment”.

The groups added that, as the episode was aired in prime time on BBC One, they were concerned that a larger audience would have heard the pitch which they alleged “amounts to an unfounded claim that this form of alternative medicine can cure ME”.

The charity who organised the letter, Action for ME, also said on X, formerly Twitter, that its chief executive, Sonya Chowdhury, has written to BBC director-general Tim Davie to voice “concerns over the episode”.

Following the complaints, the BBC defended the inclusion of the wellness business on Dragons’ Den as it described it as an “entertainment programme which features products created by entrepreneurs but is not an endorsement of them”.

“It shows real businesses pitching to investors to lift the lid on what happens in the business world”, the corporation added in a statement posted to its complaints section.

“This episode featured an entrepreneur sharing her own personal experiences that had led to the creation of a business.”

The BBC also noted that within her pitch, Ms Boxer stated her “personal healing journey” had been a combination of treatments and that “ear seeds were never described as a cure for ME”.

It added that “Dragons’ Den does not, and has never, set out to offer medical advice and we believe its audience understands this” but said it had added the clarification on iPlayer and in the episode following the concerns raised.

Acu Seeds and Action For ME have been contacted for comment.