Complaints – the FEAR

ARCHIVED POST N.B. This post is based on the 2012 Osteopathic Practice Standards and therefore may not reflect current legislation or current Mint procedures.

There is a great weight, a great fear that lurks over every osteopath – the fear of receiving a complaint.  For the next month we are going to look at complaints and consider how to avoid complaints and what a good complaints procedure looks like.

It could be argued that there is nothing wrong with a little healthy fear to keep practitioners alert and maintaining high standards.  To put it in perspective though:

A study (Carnes, 2016) of concerns recorded in 2014 showed that incidence was very small <0.004% of treatments.  Fitness to Practice hearings in 2012- 2014 represented less than 1% of registered osteopaths.

In comparison with the much larger profession of GPs, one survey showed that one in five GPs had a concern or complaint made against them (Kaffash, 2014)


You might ask yourself what you can do to protect yourself from complaints?  There are several recommendations.  First of all practice safely – good communication skills accompanied by good clinical skills.  You will see time and time again that complaints are most often linked to poor communication.  Over this month we will be looking at some examples in the Mint Facebook Group.  Secondly – you need to have good procedures for handling any complaints that are raised.  If you can handle a complaint successfully within your clinic you will prevent situations from escalating to a formal complaint.

Raising or maintaining standards

As already emphasised, very few osteopaths receive complaints.  Nevertheless it is good to learn from those that do so we can continue to keep the numbers low.  Dawn Carnes (2016) study of what osteopaths can learn from concerns and complaints against them concludes:

“Improving the management of expectations, seeking informed consent, and communicating with patients professionally about the treatment they receive and why, coupled with competent technique application may reduce the number and types of concerns reported.”

Once again – good communication and good clinical skills.  The osteopathic profession has unrivalled research analysing complaints and providing information to practitioners to help prevent complaints.  This research is used to inform policy development at GOsC and has been fundamental in shaping the new CPD scheme as a means of developing practitioner skills to improve patient safety.


The Mint complaints leaflet and poster are designed to stimulate patient feedback.  They are entitled – Compliments, Comments, Concerns and Complaints.  You would perhaps be surprised at the comments people make when they pick these up when Mint has a stand at exhibitions.  A classic comment is “I’ve got this far without receiving a complaint, I’m not going to start inviting complaints”.  It makes me imagine that people see their career like running the gauntlet to reach the end having safely avoided the enemies firing along the way!

Receiving feedback is very important for development of the profession and your own practice.  Later this month we will look at how to receive and learn from positive and negative feedback.

The culture of fear can also make it difficult for osteopaths to admit mistakes.  PILARS (Patient Incident Learning and Reporting System) has been developed by NCOR for osteopaths to anonymously report incidents to develop a learning resource for osteopaths.  It is not a particularly well used resource with relatively few incidents reported to date.


As mentioned, the osteopathic profession has an abundance of resources to inform and equip osteopaths in improving patient safety.


Fitness to Practice reports and bulletins – available in the members section of GOsC website.

The Osteopathic Development Group also has done a lot of work on adverse events and complaints in osteopathy.


Carnes, D. (2016) What can osteopaths learn from concerns and complaints raised against them? A review of insurance and regulator reports.  International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, 22, 3-10

Leach, J., Fiske, A., Mullinger, B. and Mandy, A. (2011) Complaints and claims against osteopaths: a baseline study of the frequency of complaints 2004-2008 and a qualitative exploration of patients’ complaints.  Available at

Kaffash, J. (2014) Revealed: Thousands of complaints against GPs held secretly by the GMC, Pulse Accessed at:

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