In the UK, osteopaths and chiropractors are statutory regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) and General Chiropractic Council (GCC). The primary aim of the GOsC and GCC is supposed to be protection of the public. The question is, are they fulfilling this duty or not? Some osteopaths and chiropractors see statutory regulation as a “badge of honour” and use it in the promotion of their businesses. However, this is not the purpose of statutory regulation. It’s supposed to be about patient safety, not marketing.
There are a number of examples of situations where the GOsC and GCC have failed to adequately protect the public. One example is the issue of misleading advertising. Neither the GOsC or GCC have adequately addressed the issue of misleading advertising by their registrants, with many osteopaths and chiropractors continuing to mislead the public. This includes advertisements for potentially serious health problems such as asthma or infections. Members of the public could be seriously harmed by seeing an osteopath or chiropractor for these conditions instead of a medically qualified doctor.
Although the GOsC have issued guidelines to their osteopaths, they have sent a very mixed message to them about the need to comply. For instance, they have failed to take action against osteopaths for misleading advertising instead leaving this to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They have also allowed adverts in their own “The Osteopath” magazine that offer training to osteopaths in the very things the guidelines say they shouldn’t be treating. It’s reasonable to expect that “protection of the public” should include stopping osteopaths from making bogus treatment claims. Unfortunately, the GOsC has completely failed in its duty here. Although HUNDREDS of complaints have been submitted against osteopaths for misleading advertising claims the GOsC has not (as far as I’m aware) taken action against ANY registrant for misleading claims.
In the case of the GCC, they have taken action against a registrant for misleading advertising: http://www.gcc-uk.org/chiropractor-result/?id=33&postcode=&surname=ambrose&pagenum=1 . The GCC gave an admonishment to the chiropractor in question. However, they decided not to provide any higher sanctions as they concluded that the chiropractor “no longer poses a risk to the public”. This sanction seems to be insufficient as the chiropractor continues to use misleading advertising. A single page on her website includes claims about childbirth being harmful to babies, C-sections creating problems in babies, spinal / cranial dysfunction in children and the influence of misaligned vertebrae on hormones: https://www.familychiropractic.uk.com/pregnancy-babies-and-kids/ All of this is complete nonsense. It’s hard to imagine how someone who has these beliefs and is treating patients does not represent a risk to the public.
Handling of Complaints
There is another issue with the way that complaints and fitness to practice cases are handled by the GOsC and GCC. Many cases require one or more experts to provide advice on the suitability of the treatment that has been provided. However, the GOsC often uses an osteopath as an “expert” and the GCC often uses a chiropractor. This is a significant problem because osteopaths and chiropractors are NOT medically trained. If a member of the public complains that the treatment they have received was unsuitable, or even harmful, a chiropractor or osteopath is not well placed to assess whether a patient has actually suffered harm. There are also pseudoscientific beliefs that exist in both osteopathy and chiropractic. For instance, some osteopaths use cranial osteopathy and some chiropractors use craniosacral therapy. However, both of these treatments are based on a concept that doesn’t actually exist and they have never shown evidence of effectiveness for any condition. When using an osteopath or chiropractor as an “expert” there is the potential for them to hold similar pseudoscientific beliefs. They may therefore conclude that the treatments being used are acceptable when a medically qualified professional would realise that they are complete nonsense.
It’s quite clear that the GOsC and GCC are not adequately protecting the public from the potential for harm by treatment from an osteopath or chiropractor. Instead, statutory regulation has become a marketing tool that is used to mislead the public about the suitability of the treatments offered.
An opportunity for change
The Department of Health are currently consulting on changes to the regulation of healthcare professionals, including osteopaths and chiropractors. Statutory regulation of osteopathy and chiropractic currently lends legitimacy to professions that have pseudoscientific beliefs at their core, without adequately protecting the public. This consultation is an opportunity to address this issue, to remove statutory regulation of osteopathy and chiropractic and to reserve it for those professions that are based on science. Please take the opportunity to have your say.