Back in April, with very little searching, our undercover investigator found four different osteopaths making unjustified claims regarding colic. The phone calls with each of the osteopaths can be heard by visiting the investigation page.
We reported each of the osteopaths to the General Osteopathic Council, and urged the GOsC to act quickly in addressing a widespread and serious problem among their registrants, namely osteopaths claiming to treat conditions for which they lacked any evidence of effectiveness.
In order to encourage prompt action, we at the Good Thinking Society explained we would be submitting 25 complaints to the GOsC at the start of each month until the GOsC had been able to improve the standard of advertising among its registrants. In short, osteopaths should not be making claims that they cannot back up with evidence.
After three months and 79 complaints submitted, we have positive news to report: this week, the GOsC, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have sent a joint letter to all members of the osteopathic profession, reminding them of their obligation to comply with advertising guidelines. We believe this letter was sent as a direct result of our complaints to the GOsC.
The letter explains that failure to ensure advertising is compliant would likely be a breach of the Osteopathic Practice Standards, and could result in fitness to practise proceedings:
Consequently, the Osteopathic Practice Standards – specifically Standard D14 – places on all osteopaths a duty to ensure that their advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful, and conforms to current guidance, such as the CAP Code.
An osteopath’s failure to comply with the CAP Code or failure to ensure their advertising is in line with acceptable claims as established through the ASA’s rulings would be likely to be a breach of the Osteopathic Practice Standards, which the GOsC would be required to investigate and could result in fitness to practise proceedings against you.
We strongly advise you to act now and review all your advertising to avoid being subject to a complaint that such advertising is in breach of the CAP Code.
The letter also includes a list of conditions osteopaths may not claim to treat – such as asthma, sinus and adenoidal problems, infections, whiplash, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, ADHD, speech and behavioural problems, learning difficulties, and infant conditions such as colic, sleep disturbances and glue ear.
While it is important to note that the majority of osteopaths are not making such claims, there is still a significant and widespread problem within the profession. Our 75 latest complaints were submitted after reviewing just 235 websites, selected at random from the GOsC’s register. We therefore believe it is reasonable to estimate that between a quarter and a third of registered osteopaths – roughly 1800 osteopaths – could be in trouble, and need to act immediately to avoid being subjected to formal investigation.
It should also be noted that the issue is not limited to advertising. Any osteopaths currently making problematic claims should remove the claims from their advertising, stop making such claims directly to patients face to face and stop offering to treat conditions that are beyond the remit of osteopaths.
We are pleased that the GOsC, ASA and CAP have taken this decisive step to protect the public. We hope that this will have a significant impact on the osteopathy profession and that it will avoid the need for further regular complaints. However, we will be actively monitoring the situation and will submit further complaints to the GOsC if necessary.
In the meantime, we hope that the GOsC will contact us and engage in a positive dialogue that will improve the standards of osteopathy in the UK, and protect patients. We also hope that the Institute of Osteopathy will contact us and support us in improving standards.