The Institute of Osteopathy promotes itself as “the UK’s leading professional membership organisation for registered Osteopaths.” As a professional membership organisation you would expect the Institute of Osteopathy to set an example to their member osteopaths. Unfortunately, they don’t. The Good Thinking Society has conducted a long campaign to try to tackle the many misleading claims in osteopathy. Rather than setting a good example about the promotion of osteopathy, the Institute of Osteopathy’s website was clearly in breach of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) guidelines. This has resulted in a recent “Informally resolved” complaint to the ASA. Specific issues raised in the complaint include claims about treating “unsettled children” and the use of osteopathy to improve immune function and for sleep problems. Osteopathy is not effective for any of these things and the Institute of Osteopathy should have known better than to make such misleading claims. Things get worse for the Institute of Osteopathy, however. Rather than undertaking a review of their entire site and ensuring that it complies with the guidelines, they instead just corrected the specific items raised in the complaint. There are other areas of their site that don’t comply with the guidelines and they also make unsubstantiated claims on social media. They are therefore at risk of further complaints. Like much of the osteopathic profession they represent, they clearly think it’s perfectly okay to mislead patients into undertaking unsuitable treatments. It isn’t.
It’s also interesting that the Institute of Osteopathy provides guidance on their website that conflicts with that provided by the regulator (the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC)). The GOsC have made it clear to osteopaths that they need to be able to substantiate any claims they make both in their advertising and when discussing treatment options with patients. The Institute of Osteopathy have taken a different approach and state on their website that the guidance “does not restrict your clinical practice or verbal communication with your patients.” They seem to be suggesting that osteopaths can continue to mislead patients when they speak to them outside of advertising. This is clearly unacceptable and it’s not smart of the iO to provide advice that conflicts with guidance from the GOsC. The Institute of Osteopathy goes on to say “It is only by collating the experiences of osteopaths’ targeted that we are able to determine how best to defend the profession from this campaign.” It should be noted that the iO are very clearly focused on the benefit of osteopaths here. They haven’t given any consideration to patients at all, which is what this “campaign” is really all about: protecting patients from misleading treatment claims by osteopaths.
Making a complaint to the ASA
It is relatively straightforward to make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Just fill out the form on their website: https://www.asa.org.uk/make-a-complaint.html. The Nightingale Collaboration also have an excellent guide on how to find and challenge misleading claims: http://www.nightingale-collaboration.org/making-a-complaint.html. They also have specific guidance on making a complaint to the ASA: http://www.nightingale-collaboration.org/making-a-complaint/who-to-complain-to/advertising-standards-authority/how-to-submit-a-complaint.html