Advertising osteopathic treatments: protecting the public together
23 August 2021
James Jones, Complaints Executive at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), discusses how the ASA works with GOsC to maintain trust in our profession.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s independent advertising regulator. We make sure ads across UK media adhere to the advertising rules (the Advertising Code) and our aim is to ensure that every ad is legal, decent, honest and truthful. This includes, of course, ads for osteopathic treatments.
Our first concern is that advertising should not mislead, cause harm or be irresponsible. Every year we assess thousands of complaints from members of the public and from businesses, about ads in sectors ranging from food to motoring, use of personal data to beauty treatments.
We consider each and every one, assessing the ad against the Advertising Code to determine if there’s a problem. Where there is an issue which needs addressing, we have a range of options to resolve the matter. We might consider resolving the issue informally with the advertiser, providing guidance and asking them to amend the ad. We might also refer the matter for a formal investigation and ask the ASA Council for their view as the jury which decides whether ads have broken the advertising rules.
Most osteopaths today have a website that provides information about their service and a means for potential patients to contact them. The ASA has worked with the General Osteopathic Council over the past few years to help provide information to practitioners when using this route to advertise their services. Whilst we don’t receive huge numbers of complaints about advertising in relation to osteopaths, claims to treat or cure certain conditions may only be made if supported with robust clinical evidence. This is how the Advertising Rules serve to protect potentially vulnerable members of the public. We take a proportionate and balanced approach when assessing complaints in this area, aiming to work with and support individuals wherever possible, thereby helping them stick to the rules.
For example, in 2016 we issued guidance, with the General Osteopathic Council as stakeholders, to osteopaths on marketing claims around the treatment of pregnant women, children and babies. This advice helped osteopaths to understand how they could advertise in a way that complied with the Advertising Code and provided some general principles about the sorts of claims which are, and are not, acceptable.
In general terms, we recognise that osteopaths provide a much-valued service to many patients. As such, our regulation in this area does not seek to stand in the way of advertising osteopathic treatments, as long as that advertising is responsible and only makes efficacy claims which can be supported with appropriate clinical evidence.
We have a large range of resources for advertisers on our website, including dedicated advice and guidance on the advertising of osteopathy. Our Copy Advice team are also on hand to provide free and in-depth advice on osteopathic advertising.
As our recent joint message with the GOsC highlighted, our guidance and support reaffirms the high standards we all promote in relation to advertising osteopathy to the public, something which helps to ensure it is responsible and affords confidence to consumers when choosing osteopathic treatment.