Misleading claims in the UK osteopathic profession has been a serious problem for many years and, in spite of plenty of guidance from the Advertising Standards Authority, continues to be a major issue. I recently assessed compliance of UK chiropractors against the General Chiropractic Council’s (GCC), advertising toolkit for chiropractors. As far as I can tell, there is no equivalent toolkit from the UK osteopathic regulator, the General Osteopathic Council. However, UK osteopaths and chiropractors are very similar professions and the issues with misleading advertising from these two professions are largely the same. I therefore assessed a random sample of twenty London-based osteopaths against the key points from the GCC’s toolkit. Just one out of the twenty was compliant! Overall, the misleading claims were definitely less severe than those from the chiropractic sample I assessed previously, but that isn’t saying much as those results were awful. The problem with misleading claims from UK osteopaths is clearly widespread with some osteopaths suggesting that they can treat serious conditions like asthma (they can’t) or they can treat specialist patient groups like babies (again, they can’t). Let’s look at all of this more detail.
Selecting the random sample
In order to select the random sample of twenty osteopathic practices, I used the “Search the Register” tool on the General Osteopathic Council’s website. I then entered “London” in the “By postcode or town or county or country” box, left the default of “Within 5 miles” and clicked on “Search”. One difference here is that the search returns osteopathic practices whereas the one from the General Chiropractic Council returns individual chiropractors. I then selected the first twenty osteopathic practices returned by the search. I excluded any practice where I was unable to find a website or the website only had contact info with no description of the practice.
Now you too can easily repeat my search and see for yourself just how bad these osteopathic practices are.
Assessing the osteopaths
As far as I can tell, there is no advertising toolkit from the UK osteopathic regulator, the General Osteopathic Council. However, UK osteopaths and chiropractors are very similar professions and the issues with misleading advertising from these two professions are largely the same. I therefore used the General Chiropractic Council’s advertising toolkit to produce a list of criteria against which to assess the osteopaths, including:
- Advertising for conditions outside of those that osteopaths are allowed to advertise to treat.
- Anti-vaccination stance
- “Correcting alignment”
- Claiming to “treat the root cause”
- Suggesting that long-term care can prevent illness
- Claiming that osteopathic treatment can improve immunity
- Giving the impression that they are a doctor or equivalent to a doctor
Out of twenty osteopathic practices, there was just one who was compliant. I’d like to congratulate Dore Health for being compliant with the regulatory advertising guidance. Unfortunately, the other nineteen practices were not so good. Like chiropractors, the most common issue was advertising to treat conditions outside of the “allowed” list. Seventeen out of the twenty osteopathic practices were in breach of this. For some practices the breaches here were very significant with a wide range of unsubstantiated claims being made for a large number of different conditions. Other common breaches included:
- Claiming to “treat the root cause” – 30% (6 out of 20) made this claim
- “Innate intelligence” – 25% (5 out of 20) made this claim
- Giving the impression that they are a doctor or equivalent to a doctor 20% (4 out of 20) made this claim
Many of the most serious misleading claims from osteopaths were related to the treatment of babies and children. For instance, osteopaths (and chiropractors) claim to be able to treat “birth trauma” such as this from 7 therapies:
Childbirth is not inherently traumatic for babies. The idea of treating “birth trauma” is something that osteopaths and chiropractors seem to have made up in order to justify their wholly inappropriate treatments. In fact, any suggestion of an osteopath carrying out a “check up”, whether for babies, children or adults, should immediately raise alarm bells. UK osteopaths are not doctors and are not qualified to carry out “check ups”.
The use of the term “Family Clinic” often raises significant concern when applied to a chiropractic or UK osteopathic clinic. Take for instance, this from Amberin Fur & Associates Osteopathic Consultancy:
As above, there is no reason a baby needs to be treated “osteopathically” post birth. There is also no evidence that osteopathy will help a child reach their “maximum potential” or help with any childhood complaints.
There were also some osteopathic practices that claimed to be able to treat serious health conditions. One example was Purus Active Health that claimed osteopathy could treat a range of conditions including asthma:
I have written previously about how it is wholly inappropriate, and potentially dangerous, for osteopaths to try and treat respiratory conditions like asthma.
Overall, whilst these results were a little better than for chiropractors, there were numerous and serious breaches of advertising guidelines by osteopathic practices.
UK osteopaths seem to have a better reputation than chiropractors and in England they are even recognised as Allied Health Professionals. However, there are widespread and serious issues with misleading claims and inappropriate treatments throughout the profession. In this random sample of twenty osteopathic practices, just one was fully compliant. A reasonable number of osteopathic practices claimed that they are doctors or equivalent to a doctor and more treated based on “innate intelligence” or treating the “root cause”. Worryingly, a number of the most serious misleading claims were related to babies and children.
It may be possible to find a “good” osteopath. However, in this sample of twenty osteopathic practices just one was compliant with advertising regulations. Whilst this was only a fairly small sample, it suggests that the chances of finding a “good” osteopath is pretty slim. On the basis of these results, it would be hard to do anything other than recommend against seeing a UK osteopath.