A web page entitled “Infants and Children”, seen on www.herefordosteopaths.co.uk in March 2017, stated “Osteopaths are first-contact practitioners, trained to undertake an initial consultation with any patient, at any age. There are many ways in which parents express their concern for their children’s welfare. They often describe it in terms of symptoms or conditions such as inconsolable crying and distress, colic, reflux, unsettled child, poor feeding, wind, sleeping problems, glue ear, painful ears, breathing difficulties, nasal congestion, recurrent infections, poor concentration, disruptive behaviour, aggression, head pain, misshapen head, plagiocephaly, Down's syndrome.
There are no blinded, randomised controlled trials conducted on people to demonstrate the effectiveness of osteopathy because scientific trials like this cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and take years to complete. Besides, osteopathy does not treat ‘conditions’ … Osteopathy is more concerned with why the problem might have occurred and why it is not resolving naturally. Osteopaths take the time to talk through their patients’ concerns and discuss some of the options available in order that they might be better able to decide what to do next. Many parents find the changes in their child’s wellbeing and behaviour to be beneficial.
Osteopathy does not make efficacy claims. Osteopathy does not claim to treat or prevent any adverse condition, disease, injury or ailment. For the avoidance of doubt the list above is for information only of some of the conditions and disorders that some parents have quoted when taking their child for an osteopathic consultation. It should not be interpreted that osteopaths treat these conditions and it should not be taken that we imply that we do”.
The General Osteopathic Council and the Good Thinking Society challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that osteopathy was effective in treating the symptoms and conditions listed.
Nicholas Handoll said that reasonably well-informed, observant and circumspect people needed information in order to make informed decisions about the services available to them. He said that the web page contained further information stating that osteopathy did not treat the conditions listed and that there was no scientific evidence to show that it did so. He said that the conditions listed on the page were examples that people had quoted to describe their children’s problems. He did not believe that the page would give viewers the impression that osteopathy could treat or alleviate these conditions.
In the context of a website that offered osteopathic services, the ASA considered that consumers would understand the claim “There are many ways in which parents express concern for their children’s welfare”, and subsequent reference to various symptoms and conditions, to mean that osteopathy could treat those problems. We noted that the page contained additional text stating that osteopathy did not treat conditions, However, we did not consider that this was sufficient to overcome the impression that the web page as a whole was likely to give to consumers.
Because we had seen no evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of osteopathic services in treating inconsolable crying and distress, colic, reflux, an unsettled child, poor feeding, wind, sleeping problems, glue ear, painful ears, breathing difficulties, nasal congestion, recurrent infections, poor concentration, disruptive behaviour, aggression, head pain, misshapen head, plagiocephaly or Down's syndrome, we concluded that the implied efficacy claims had not been substantiated and were therefore misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) Code rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.
Objective claims must be backed by evidence, if relevant consisting of trials conducted on people. Substantiation will be assessed on the basis of the available scientific knowledge.
Medicinal or medical claims and indications may be made for a medicinal product that is licensed by the MHRA, VMD or under the auspices of the EMA, or for a CE-marked medical device. A medicinal claim is a claim that a product or its constituent(s) can be used with a view to making a medical diagnosis or can treat or prevent disease, including an injury, ailment or adverse condition, whether of body or mind, in human beings.
Secondary medicinal claims made for cosmetic products as defined in the appropriate European legislation must be backed by evidence. These are limited to any preventative action of the product and may not include claims to treat disease. (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Nicholas Handoll not to state or imply that osteopathy was effective in treating health conditions unless they held robust evidence to substantiate the claims.