NHS Care

NHS and Private Treatment

Most of our osteopaths work in the private sector, in a group practice, and some offer services through the NHS.

In some areas, doctors are able to refer patients to an osteopath for treatment funded by the NHS.  To find out whether osteopathic treatment is available on the NHS in your area, contact your local Primary Care Trust if you live in England.

For information on who to contact in your region of the UK, ask your doctor or check the NHS website.

All osteopaths in the UK, wherever they work, are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC).  It is against the law for anyone to call themselves an osteopath unless they are registered with the GOsC, which sets and promotes high standards of competency, conduct and safety.

Referrals to osteopaths

Osteopathy focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).  Using a combination of osteopathic and conventional diagnostic techniques, treatment is based on mobilising and manipulative procedures tailored to the individual patient, reinforced by guidance on diet, lifestyle and exercise.

This approach emphasises the integration of the musculoskeletal system with other body systems, and the influence that impaired function of each has on the other.  It also seeks to empower patients in assisting their recovery to good health.

Increasingly osteopaths are working alongside GPs and other healthcare professionals, providing treatment both privately and through the NHS.  Commonly treated conditions include back, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, sport- and work-related injuries, arthritic pain, joint pain and digestive disorders.

A Medical Research Council trial comparing treatment options for lower back pain found that spinal manipulation, added to GP care, is clinically effective and the most cost-efficient option for patients (UK Back Pain Exercise and Manipulation trial, MRC, 2004). 

In 2006, the Department of Health published guidelines which advocated the establishment of multidisciplinary clinical assessment services and recognised that MSDs can often be resolved quickly and effectively by treatments such as osteopathy (The Musculoskeletal Services Framework. A joint responsibility: doing it differently, DH, 2006).

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) published guidance on the treatment of non-specific low back pain in May 2009.  Recommendations in Low back pain: Early management of persistent non-specific low back pain, include manual therapy, as practised by osteopaths. This includes spinal manipulation, mobilisation and massage, for patients who “have been in pain for longer than six weeks but less than one year, where pain may be linked to structures in the back such as joints, muscles and ligaments”.

Most patients visit an osteopath of their own accord, but some may be referred by a doctor. Osteopaths are trained to recognise when osteopathy will not help a medical condition, and will refer a patient to a GP when necessary. 

Guidelines for the referral of patients to an osteopath have been published by the General Medical Council (Good Medical Practice, GMC, 2006) and the British Medical Association (Referrals to complementary therapists: Guidance for GPs, General Practitioners’ Committee, BMA, 2006).  This guidance confirms that GPs can refer patients to osteopaths as statutorily regulated health professionals.

By law all osteopaths practising in the UK must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council