CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Unlicensed practice of osteopathy

A new UK case shows the dangers of unlicensed practice of medicine.

In the U.S., it is unlawful to practice 'medicine' without a license. Practicing medicine includes not only such broadly defined terms as diagnosis, treatment, operation, prescription, and cure, but also holding one's self out as as a medical doctor. For example, wearing a white coat while practicing naturopathy could be misleading, as it could be interpreting as holding out as a doctor without the license.

In this case, the issue is practicing osteopathic medicine without a license. The UK has a General Osteopathic Council which regulates the osteopathic profession:

Swindon Magistrates' Court has ruled that a bogus practitioner describing himself as an osteopath has broken the law. Mr Julian Midda of Calne, Wiltshire pleaded guilty on 30 May to two charges of describing himself as an osteopath when not registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). He was fined £750 and ordered to pay costs of over £870.

The charges related to information contained on two websites advertising Mr Midda's services. In his sentencing remarks, the District Judge said that in respect of referring to his osteopathic qualification in advertising material "it was wholly wrong to mention osteopathy".

Mr Midda has been aware since May 2000 that he is not entitled to describe himself as an osteopath. Despite previous warnings from the GOsC that he cease describing himself as an osteopath, Mr Midda continued to deliberately mislead the public.

Since the passing of the Osteopaths Act 1993, the title 'osteopath' is protected by law. Under Section 32(1) of the Act, it is a criminal offence for anyone to claim, expressly or by implication, to be any kind of osteopath, unless registered with the GOsC. The GOsC is the only statutory regulator in the UK that registers qualified osteopaths and sets standards of osteopathic practice and conduct.

Patient safety is the primary purpose of restricting the use of the osteopathic title to those registered with the General Osteopathic Council. The GOsC ensures that the practitioners on its register are safe and competent osteopaths who follow strict codes of conduct.

Ms Evlynne Gilvarry, Chief Executive & Registrar at the GOsC, commented: "These convictions are a victory for patient safety, indicating the Courts' stand on the seriousness of protecting the public from bogus practitioners. We [the GOsC] will continue to prosecute anyone who unlawfully describes themselves as an osteopath, in order to maintain the good reputation of the osteopathic profession and, above all, protect the public."

For details of a registered osteopath in your area contact the General Osteopathic Council on 020 7357 6655 or visit the GOsC website: http://www.osteopathy.org.uk. The General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) has a statutory duty to regulate the practice of osteopathic care in the UK. Osteopaths must be registered with the GOsC in order to practise in the UK. We work with the public and profession to protect and promote patient safety through effective regulation of osteopaths in the UK by:

- registering qualified professionals
- setting standards of osteopathic practice and conduct
- assuring the quality of osteopathic education
- ensuring continuing professional development
- helping patients with concerns or complaints about an osteopath.

There you have it. In the UK, do not call yourself an osteopath or say that you are rendering osteopathic services unless statutorily registered. The Society provides this additional information:

The Statutory Register of Osteopaths

- Osteopaths are statutorily regulated health professionals and form an integral part of primary care teams.

- Only practitioners who meet the highest standards of safety and competency are eligible for registration. Proof of good health, good character and professional indemnity insurance cover is also a requirement.

- It is an offence for anyone to describe themselves as an osteopath and practise as such, unless registered with the GOsC. The public can, therefore, be confident in visiting a registered osteopath that they will experience safe and competent treatment from a practitioner who adheres to a strict code of practice: "13. (1) The General Osteopathic Council shall from time to time determine the standard of proficiency which, in its opinion, is required for the competent and safe practice of osteopath" (Osteopaths Act 1993).

- "Any patient consulting an osteopath is entitled to a high standard of care. The register of osteopaths exists so that members of the public can identify those who have demonstrated their ability to practise to the required standards" (extract from the GOsC 'Code of Practice', GOsC, 2005).

- The 2008 Statutory Register of Osteopaths provides a geographical index of all practising osteopaths, and is available to healthcare providers and the general public. Printed copies are available from the GOsC. A current and searchable listing of osteopaths is available on the GOsC website: http://www.osteopathy.org.uk.

One can see that prohibitions against unlicensed practice are fairly standard whether dealing with U.S. or U.K. law. Our law office receives many inquiries from homeopaths, naturopaths, energy healers, herbalists and students of herbal medicine, hypnotherapists, and others all of whom face possible prosecution for unlicensed medical practice if they lack any form of health care license. And for those who are licensed there is always the danger of violating the scope of practice and thus crossing the line into unlicensed practice of other professions. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep abreast of relevant developments and understand that merely having a credential from a school of herbal medicine, naturopathy, or some other healing system does not in itsel provide protection.

It is also a common fallacy to believe that calling something a "spiritual" practice and getting a credential as a "minister" automatically removes a "healing" practice from the purview of the health care licensing statutes and regulations. If in doubt, seek competent legal advice. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, goes the old adage, and I think the wisdom is basically sound, even though the ratios may need a bit of updating.

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Michael H. Cohen, Esq.; 468 North Camden Dr. | Beverly Hills, California 90210 | 310-844-3173