OA statement on UCO and BCNO Group news

As an organisation collectively representing nine diverse postgraduate providers, committed to upholding the identity, breadth and depth of Osteopathy, the Osteopathic Alliance has read with interest the future proofing actions of two of the eight undergraduate colleges, in response to challenges of the modern economic climate: UCO’s ongoing merger with a specialist health sciences and Allied Health Professions (AHP) university, AECC, and the loss of BCNO Group’s UK undergraduate course at ESO.

The Osteopathic profession is not unfamiliar with change. In fact, Osteopathy’s journey is one where the profession with its core concepts of osteopathic thinking has proven to stand the test of time, even in the face of World Wars, recessions and regulatory changes. Arguably, this resilience has been achieved by a steadfast lineage of pioneers, educators, practitioners, researchers and others, adapting to change, whilst embracing a common commitment to nurture the fertile soil which supports the distinctiveness of osteopathy to sustain itself and its potential to thrive undiluted in any changing landscape for future generations of students and patients.

Nonetheless, the profession may potentially be at a pivotal moment of change. This is because, as we move into the 150th year anniversary of Osteopathy and 30 years of regulation, we also move into a period of NHS reform. This NHS workforce solution involves the AHPs’ educational landscape, across optional undergraduate, pre-registration, post registration and international pathways, to support an NHS workforce supply pipeline. As Osteopathy has been an AHP in England since 2017 (represented by the Institute of Osteopathy), this may have potential repercussions to the profession.

UCO’s plans to adopt many of the AHP educational reform frameworks of musculoskeletal focussed education, delivered through multidisciplinary interactions and apprenticeships, and ESO’s plans for an AHP multidisciplinary clinic, align closely to NHS workforce supply specifications. This opens an unprecedented shift in the osteopathic educational landscape. The significance of this shift may be debatable, but cannot be ignored. These innovative models change the environment of development, taking training and hence osteopathy’s effectiveness, and potentially its identity, into unchartered waters.

It is impossible not to consider the short and long term implications of these models being introduced at undergraduate, pre-registration or preceptorship levels. This is a time when students are still building their knowledge and understanding of the concepts which are unique to osteopathy by starting to apply them in their clinical work. Furthermore, unlike other AHPs, osteopathic students are being trained to become primary healthcare professionals.

Any repercussions, no matter how small, to the potential dilution of both professional identity and scope of practice, must be carefully considered. The OA has noticed a decline in standards in these areas for many years. Our experiences of UK and international graduates on our courses and within teaching clinics evidences that this decline already affects the ability of many graduates to grasp the foundations of osteopathic thinking expected for osteopathic practice and ongoing development.

Our insights also emphasise the benefit of courses strengthened with more, not less osteopathic content, the necessity of interaction with tutors and mentors experienced in Osteopathic practice and also the opportunity for students to explore and deepen their grasp of osteopathic concepts, as their understanding unfolds experientially over time. We continue to observe that creating and strengthening professional identity and expanding the scope of practice provides Osteopaths with the potential to confidently enter and evolve in any career choice and in any setting, bringing what is unique to osteopathy to a wider audience of patients.

Although the OA recognise that AHP focussed learning environments may facilitate entry into NHS careers, we have concerns as to how well they also prepare osteopaths for broader private and public practice or entry level into postgraduate osteopathic courses. We will be watching with concerned interest the outcomes of educational frameworks which are based on novel wider healthcare frameworks with largely unknown outcomes themselves.

The OA continue to be open to collaborative input into the profession, with its best interests at heart, through engagement with all stakeholders. We offer our support to students, faculty and the profession at this time of change.

In the meantime, we wholeheartedly wish the UCO and BCNO Group the best outcomes for their students in the midst of their changing environments, and continue to be supportive of all the other Osteopathic Education Institutions at this time of further consolidation and growth, in their essential role in preparing students for a career as Osteopaths.

With best wishes,

The Osteopathic Alliance

On behalf of OA Member Organisations: