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COVID-19: Patient safety in a shared practice

Updated on 17 June 2020

As osteopaths start to return to practice in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, it’s clear that this will not be a case of ‘getting back to normal’ – at least not for now. COVID-19 remains a risk, and there will be a need to implement a range of measures to mitigate the risk of transmission of the virus.

The GOsC has published infection control guidance, as has the Institute of Osteopathy. These should be helpful in highlighting the approaches necessary to minimise the risk to patients, osteopaths and others in the clinical environment.

In deciding whether to see patients face-to-face, osteopaths should exercise their professional judgement taking a range of factors into account. This will include any steps they need to take to minimise the risk to patients and themselves, such as the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). The published guidance is there to help inform practice, and in the context of a global pandemic and a highly infectious disease, public health guidance on infection control needs to be taken seriously. If a complaint is made regarding an osteopath’s approach to infection control, for example if they had chosen not to use PPE, then there would need to be a well-developed narrative to justify why the guidance had not been applied.

Where osteopaths practise together, or with other healthcare practitioners, it may sometimes be that tensions arise as to the implementation of the guidance. These may lead to some difficult conversations with colleagues.

All osteopaths, however, have a duty under the Osteopathic Practice Standards to take action to keep patients from harm (Standard C4). The guidance to C4 suggests a range of actions that might be taken where an osteopath feels that the conduct of a colleague or other healthcare practitioner poses a risk to patients.

The starting point would often be a discussion with the practitioner to raise concerns, and it is hoped that this conversation would be sufficient to resolve any such tensions. Through this approach a way forward might be found that ensured that patients, osteopaths and others stayed safe.

However, if the issue cannot be resolved in this way, then the guidance suggests considering discussing the issue with other colleagues to gain further insight and perspective; the practice principal (if the principal isn’t the colleague that the tension has arisen with); or an employer, if there is one.

If the concerns as to patient safety are not resolved in this way at a local level, then if the practitioner is a member of a regulated profession, the next option is to speak to their regulator, which for osteopaths would be the GOsC. If the osteopath is a member of the professional membership body, the Institute of Osteopathy (iO), they may wish to contact the iO for further guidance before contacting GOsC.

Some osteopaths may feel uncomfortable making their case with a more experienced colleague or principal, but the key point to keep in mind here is patient safety, and if an osteopath feels that this is being compromised then they need to take action. In terms of evidence or making a case for enhanced measures, it could be helpful to utilise the infection control guidance published by the GOsC and the iO.

Read our infection control guidance
Read the Institute of Osteopathy’s advice on adapting your practice