The Osteopath Act and the General Osteopathic Council

This page of Osteopedia is mainly dedicated to the legislation regulating the practice of osteopathy in the UK. After a brief overlook on the current state of the matter we provide a list of the main text for the regulation of osteopathy and related useful links.

As well as the history of osteopathy varies country by country so does its regulation. Although the beginnings of osteopathy go back to the United States of America towards the end of the eighteenth century with A. T. Still and its core principles stay the same throughout space and time, its practice, recognition and regulation walk many different paths all around the world.

In the European Union there is not a common regulation for the practice of osteopathy which is followed unequivocally by each of the member states, instead, each country has a different legislation.

Having said that, it is important to mention the existence of international bodies that summarize and connect the osteopathic practice throughout the world, like The Osteopathic International Alliance (OIA) and the International Osteopathic Association (IOA). The first provides a guide featuring all the specifics concerning registration and practice rights in different countries, whereas the latter provides a list of all accredited osteopathic colleges.

In the UK the Parliament granted a full recognition of the osteopathic profession in 1993 with the Osteopaths Act, more than 70 years after the establishment of the first British osteopathic school by John Martin Littlejohn, in London. John Martin Littlejohn, an A. T. Still’s pupil, had studied, practiced and taught in the US. He introduced the new science in the UK in the early nineteenth century.

Through the Osteopaths Act the osteopathic profession has been recognized the same legal status as other healthcare professions including statutory self-regulation, therefore osteopathy has its own statute which regulates its practice.

Any practitioner claiming to be, either explicitly or implicitly, an osteopath, osteopathic physician, osteopathist, osteopathic practitioner, osteotherapist, or any kind of osteopath needs to be registered as an osteopath with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) – the UK regulatory body established with the Osteopaths Act – failure to do so will make them guilty of an offense, liable to prosecution. This constitutes the “protection of title”, a law applied to the osteopathic profession in the UK, Isle of Man and Gibraltar.

More than 5,300 osteopaths are currently registered with the GOsC, although they do not all practice within the UK territory, more than seven million osteopathic consultations are carried out in the UK every year.

Educational Standards

To be allowed to register with the GOsC a recognised qualification is required. The GOsC provides a list of recognised educational institutions and courses on their website.

The following is a list of all institutions currently authorised to provide osteopathic courses in the UK as recognised by the GOsC:

These institutions provide either degrees in osteopathy (a BSc Hons, BOst or BOstMed) or masters degrees (MOst) or both. Their courses will usually last 4 years full-time and 5 years part-time, with possible combinations of the two and accelerated course of study for students already possessing a degree in medicine or physical therapy. Each qualification would normally include 1000 hours of clinical training.

The General Osteopathic Council also establishes the standards required by an educational institution to be recognised as an osteopathic training body. Such standards are checked periodically in order for the institution to maintain such a status.

Such standards are divided into the following nine categories:

  • Programme design, delivery and assessment
  • Programme governance, leadership and management
  • Learning culture
  • Quality evaluation, review and assurance
  • Resources
  • Students
  • Clinical experience
  • Staff support and development
  • Patients

Fitness and conduct

Besides a completed recognised qualification in osteopathy, fitness and conduct of the applicant are taken under consideration for registration.
The General Osteopathic Council’s Position statement on the relationship between Recognised Qualifications and Registration (Student fitness to practise) states the following:

“…the RQ will normally lead to registration with the GOsC.

If additional information, not known to the osteopathic educational institution, is discovered about the health or character of the applicant between the award of the RQ and the application for registration, the Registrar will consider this information separately, in the light of the current standards of conduct and competence set out in the GOsC’s Standard of Proficiency and the Code of Practice.

This means that the Registrar will make a decision about whether the applicant can practise without supervision to the standards required in the Standard of Proficiency and the Code of Practice, having due regard to legislation, including the Disability Discrimination Act (as amended).”2

The GOsC has also established a Student Fitness to Practise Working Group to look into this kind of issues and provide guidance to students with regard to the many aspects of professional behaviour in their future profession.

Osteopathic Practice Standards

The General Osteopathic Council, under the terms of the Osteopaths Act 1993 and a statement from the GMC, is the actual designated authority in the regulation, promotion and development of the osteopathic profession. It is therefore responsible to set and maintain the Standard of Proficiency and the Code of Practice of the profession aas well as the Osteopathic Practice Standards. Such standards apply to the osteopathic practice in the best interest of the patient. They are available to consult in full on the GOsC website.

The Osteopathic Practice Standards are also part of an osteopath professional education and are articulated into 4 categories:

A: Communication and patient partnership
B: Knowledge, skills and performance
C: Safety and quality in practice
D: Professionalism3

Professional development standards

All osteopaths registered with the GOsC are required to complete a specified amount of CPD – continuing professional development – each year, to favour the progress and updating of their skills and expertise. In order to achieve this the GOsC has set the Standards of Professional Development.

It is also mandatory for an osteopath practicing in the UK to be covered by a professional indemnity insurance for a minimum of £5 million, in order to provide an adequate compensation to patients, should a treatment be harmful to them.


1. The source of this list is the GOsC website:




Osteopaths Act 1993

The British Parliament granted a full recognition of the osteopathic profession in 1993 with the Osteopaths Act, "An Act to establish a body to be known as the General Osteopathic Council; to provide for the regulation of the profession of osteopathy, including making provision as to the registration of osteopaths and as to their professional education and conduct; to make provision in connection with the development and promotion of the profession; and for connected purposes. July 1993"

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Graduate Outcomes and Standards for Education and Training

The Graduate Outcomes and Standards for Education and Training are guidelines drawn by the General Osteopathic Council for both students and Educational institutions. In particular, the Graduate Outcomes are designed to support osteopathy students in demonstrating that they meet the Osteopathic Practice Standards before graduating. Once graduated the students will be able to register with the General Osteopathic Council and therefore practice the osteopathic profession. The Standards for Education and Training are designed especially for Educational Institutions and concern the resources, culture and environment within which they should implement their education and training programmes.

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Guidance about Professional Behaviours and Fitness to Practise for Osteopathic Students

These guidlines are set by the General Osteopathic Council for osteopathic students in relation to professionality and fitness to practice osteopathy in the best interest of patients. Some of the areas covered are the common values of healthcare professionals, the compliance with the Osteopathic Practice Standards, the the awareness and respect of boundaries, duty of candour and health and disability.

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Student Fitness to Practise: Guidance for Osteopathic Educational Institutions

In the Student Fitness to Practise: Guidance for Osteopathic Educational Institutions the General Osteopathic Council focuses on how the Educational Institutions should promote, mantain and ensure students' fitness to practice the osteopathic profession.

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Students with a Disability or Health Condition: Guidance for Osteopathic Educational Institutions

The Students with a Disability or Health Condition: Guidance for Osteopathic Educational Institutions guidlines state that "people with disabilities and long-term health conditions are able to undertake osteopathic education and training, achieve a qualification allowing them to seek registration as an osteopath, and practise osteopathy with or without adjustments to support their practice. The General Osteopathic Council is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion, to ensure that the osteopathic profession reflects the society that it serves." These guideline support Educational Institution in implementing such a vision.

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Guidance for Applicants and Students with a Disability or Health Condition

These guidelines are set by the General Osteopathic Council to support students in regard to health and disability in order to ensure "equality of opportunity for all applicants and students of osteopathy."

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