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 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 12.1 (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.