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Report shows drop in number of concerns raised about osteopaths

13 December 2023

We’ve published the latest research report from the National Council of Osteopathic Research (NCOR) which annually reviews the types of concerns raised about osteopaths and osteopathic services.

The number of concerns in this latest report is the second lowest since data collection began in 2013. The report, which logs first point of contact concerns across the sector, helps osteopaths and the GOsC to focus their efforts on avoiding concerns in particular areas highlighted by patients.

Key findings from this year’s data, which was collected during January to December 2022, are set out below.

Reduced number of concerns

There were 126 concerns raised in 2022, this is the second lowest number since data for these reports was first collected. The lowest number was 115 in 2020 when the pandemic was significantly impacting osteopathic practices and having an impact on both the number and nature of concerns raised. The requirement for osteopaths to focus on communication and consent as part of the Continuing Professional Development scheme may have contributed to supporting this reduction.

Particular areas of reflection this year might include:

  • Clinical care issues

The data shows levels of concerns related to new or increased pain and delivery of forceful treatment have plateaued since 2018, suggesting the importance of osteopaths being clear in their communication about both the benefits but also the potential side effects of treatment. 

  • Professional boundaries concerns

Overall numbers of concerns around boundaries and sexual impropriety appear to have reduced slightly this year. However, concerns around boundaries are becoming more serious. This continues to be a key area of focus for the GOsC. Our scenarios reflecting on the ongoing establishment and maintenance of professional boundaries with patients are a useful resource to support osteopaths.

  • Two dominant OPS themes

In terms of the Osteopathic Practice Standards (OPS), Safety and Quality (Theme C) is the area where most concerns have been reported over the past nine years as well as Theme D: Professionalism, echoing the findings in 2021.

Further areas to explore

Some of the data collected suggests that further exploration of concerns for those aged over 71 and those who are newly qualified (up to two years) may benefit from further analysis to see if there is further support we might be able to provide for these groups. 

GOsC Chief Executive and Registrar, Matthew Redford, said:

‘This latest annual NCOR report gives us much welcomed and unique insight into the care delivered by osteopaths. We continue to use the findings to help ensure we are promoting and supporting a reduction of concerns in the areas outlined in the report through integrating the key messages coming out of the report into our communications and featuring them prominently in our policy priorities. We are also sharing these findings with stakeholders and colleagues across the profession to ensure that we are joined up in our approach to supporting the reduction and the severity of concerns raised.

'Again this year it is reassuring to see that the overall number of concerns are low, as are the numbers of osteopaths who have concerns raised about them.

'In relation to the occurrence of concerns raised in connection with sexual impropriety and around issues of professional boundaries, we know these can be so damaging to patients. Therefore we continue to focus on this area of work building on Julie Stone’s independent thematic review Supporting Professionals, Protecting Patients and our own boundaries scenarios which were disseminated to the profession and continue to be promoted. We are now working on communicating important messages around professional boundaries through a variety of formats.’

'We recognise that there continues to be room for improvement in relation to two OPS themes: Safety and Quality and Professionalism, and we encourage every osteopath to consider the report and its findings to ensure there is a focus on practice in accordance with the OPS.'

About the report

The independent NCOR report collates concerns and complaints data from the General Osteopathic Council, the professional membership body the Institute of Osteopathy and three insurers of osteopaths. The report is unique to the osteopathic profession and provides valuable feedback for osteopaths, students and educational providers.

Read more about NCOR and the NCOR Concerns and Complaints Report

Read the latest NCOR report