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Bridging the Gap in neuromuscular health services

The Bridging the Gap project has made great strides forward in supporting health professionals to improve care for people living with muscle-wasting conditions.

In October 2013, Muscular Dystrophy UK was awarded a three-year grant by the Department of Health to support improved specialised commissioning for people in England with muscle-wasting conditions. The aim was to enhance healthcare, quality of life and independence through timely access to integrated health/social care services responsive to their needs.

As well as improving clinical capacity in NHS hospital trusts, one of the key focuses of the project was to improve the skills and knowledge of community health professionals such as nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Workforce planning

In 2015 an audit was carried out of specialist care provided at muscle centres across the UK, following up on a previous review in 2012. The most significant issue arising from both these audits was workforce planning. In 2012, 44 percent of centres mentioned the need for more staff, including consultants, physiotherapists, care advisors and occupational therapists. In 2015, this figure had increased to more than 50%, with the need for clinical nurse specialist roles also widely highlighted. Despite increases in the number of neuromuscular physiotherapists and neuromuscular psychologists, many centres said the staff they had were stretched or at full capacity.

Identifying service gaps securing new roles

Living up to its name, Bridging the Gap created a number of regional forums to identify key service gaps. These have helped to secure 46 new NHS-funded neuromuscular roles and saved 15 existing roles that had short-term funding. That represents over £3.6 million increased investment in specialist services delivered to people with muscle-wasting conditions. In addition, a wide range of new resources have been created to support both patients and health professionals, including online training courses for GPs and physiotherapists.

Muscular Dystrophy UK has promised to build on the strong foundations laid by the Bridging the Gap project. The charity plans to continue improving support for health professionals by launching online courses and holding regular CPD events for paediatric physiotherapists and other allied health professionals, such as occupational therapists.

While muscle-wasting conditions are considered relatively rare, there are still over 70,000 people in the UK who have muscular dystrophy (MD) or a related condition. NHS specialist care is vital in providing them with the best quality of life possible and reducing the number of emergency hospital admissions. Bridging the Gap has given them a voice.

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