The General Osteopathic Council (GOsC), has recently carried out a successful criminal prosecution for the unlawful use of the protected title of 'osteopath'. On 18 March 2016 Bruce Carnegie appeared at Berkshire Magistrates’ Court and pleaded guilty to using the title of ‘osteopath’ while not registered with the GOsC, contrary to Section 32 of the Osteopaths Act 1993. Since the passing of this Act the title ‘osteopath’ is protected and it is a criminal offence for anyone to claim, expressly or by implication, to be any kind of osteopath, unless registered with the GOsC. Each of the statutory healthcare regulators has similar provisions in their legislation that enable a criminal prosecution where an individual uses a protected title and they do not have the requisite registration or licence to practice. Clearly individuals who are unregistered or unlicensed and seek to practice in these circumstances have not been vetted by the regulator and are not caught by their fitness to practise regulations.
In this specific case Mr Carnegie, who provided services in Reading was fined a modest £500 and ordered to pay costs of £400 to the GOsC along with a surcharge of £50. The charges related to information provided by Mr Carnegie on his website where he described himself as an ‘osteopath’, including a ‘GOsC-registered osteopath’; he had been removed from the GOsC Register on 31 October 2012. Despite a warning made by the GOsC to Mr Carnegie that by using the osteopathic title on his website he was committing a criminal offence, he failed to amend his website.
There is some disparity between the regulators in relation to their appetite for criminal prosecutions. The General Dental Council have a strong record in successfully prosecuting those who carry out reserved activity (or 'protected functions', which is not necessarily an offence in relation to each statutory healthcare regulator) who are not registered. This is most commonly seen in the regular prosecutions of illegal tooth whiteners where reasonably significant fines have been imposed together with recovery of the costs of the prosecution. Other regulators have referred cases to the CPS, who in our experience tend to prefer to prosecute under the Fraud Act 2006 where the individual has gained a pecuniary advantage as a result of the deception. This is legislation they are more familiar with and the offences are predominantly either way rather than summary. Such cases are viewed as serious by the courts, even where the alleged deception is less than £20,000. In any event it is likely that the regulator will remain involved in a complainant capacity and provide witness evidence on the status of the accused and the system of regulation.
Often, the individual involved in these allegations has some existing connection to the profession, like in the case above where they have been previously removed from the register. Other circumstances involve those who have failed academic qualifications associated with a profession, where they have acquired some knowledge that gives them initial credibility. Simple failures like not checking the name and pin number match as issued by the regulator can allow people to slip through the net. This is less prevalent now as screening and vetting has become much more robust and regulators have specific services that allow employers to check the status of employees and potential employees quicker, with additional detail being disclosed.