All osteopaths practising in the UK have completed rigorous training. Students of osteopathy follow a four or five-year degree course, during which they study anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, nutrition and biomechanics. In addition they undergo a minimum of 1,000 hours of clinical training. Qualification generally takes the form of a bachelor’s degree in osteopathy &endash; a D.O., a BSc(Hons), BOst or BOstMed &endash; or a masters degree in osteopathy (MOst).
The General Osteopathic Council sets the standards of osteopathic education, and requires qualified osteopaths to update their training throughout their working lives, a process known as Continuing Professional Development.
The GOsC also ensures that all osteopaths comply with strict osteopathic practice standards and the profession’s Code of Practice. As well as completing the necessary training, osteopaths must also prove themselves to be in good health and of good character, and have professional indemnity insurance cover.
The standards of competence expected from an osteopath are outlined in the document Standard 2000 – Standard of Proficiency.
Osteopathy in practice
There are more than 4,000 osteopaths registered with the General Osteopathic Council, which includes some who practise abroad. Those practising in the UK carry out more than seven million consultations every year. Of those consultations, 54% of new patients are seen within one working day of contacting the osteopath and 95% are seen within one week.
The profession attracts almost equal numbers of male and female practitioners, and some have already qualified in another healthcare practice such as medicine, nursing or physiotherapy.
The majority of UK osteopaths (83%) practise in England, with 3.1% in Scotland, 2.2% in Wales, 0.4% in Northern Ireland and 9.1% working overseas.
Most osteopaths are self-employed and work in the private sector, although some are working in multi-disciplinary environments within the NHS and in occupational healthcare in public bodies and private companies. All osteopaths, wherever they work, must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council.
Becoming an osteopath
By law, you have to be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) to practise in the UK. It is a criminal offence, liable to prosecution, for anyone to claim explicitly or by implication to be any kind of osteopath unless they are on the GOsC Register. In order to be registered, you must have completed a course of training that is accredited by the GOsC.
Training courses generally lead to a bachelor’s degree in osteopathy (a BSc Hons, BOst or BOstMed) or a masters degree (MOst). Courses usually consist of four years of full-time training, five years part-time or a mixture of full or part-time. There are also courses with accelerated pathways for doctors and physiotherapists.
A degree course includes anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, nutrition and biomechanics, plus at least 1,000 hours of clinical training. Read more here about the 10 UK institutions currently accredited to provide osteopathic training.
A practising osteopath must be covered by professional indemnity insurance for a minimum of £2.5 million, to ensure that a patient harmed by treatment can be adequately compensated.
As an osteopath you may work with children and/or vulnerable adults so, as part of your registration, you are required to have a criminal records check which is performed by the Government agency the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).