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Physios are key in progressive illness care

Tagged In:  Physiotherapy

National and international care guidelines highlight the vital role that physiotherapists and other allied health professionals can play in the management of progressive illnesses. However, recent surveys suggest there may be room for improvement in access and training. 

The recently published NICE quality standard for motor neurone disease (MND) calls for more involvement from multi-disciplinary teams, including physiotherapists and occupational therapists. It's just one of several healthcare guidance documents that emphasise the importance of involving allied health professionals in care plans for people with serious progressive illnesses.

Ema Swingwood, Education Champion for the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care, has commented that the MND guidance provides 'reference and evidence to support plans for service development'. However, there are concerns that some patients with progressive illnesses may not be receiving the physiotherapy they need and that more specialist training and support for physiotherapists should be made available.

The 2015 UK Parkinson's Audit found that fewer than one in four people with the disease were referred to a physiotherapist within two years of diagnosis. It also showed that, while more physiotherapists have undertaken Parkinson's-related continuing professional development, induction and support strategies were lacking in some areas.

A recent study by Birmingham University questioned the effectiveness of physical therapy in the management of Parkinson's. However, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP) and charity Parkinson's UK were quick to provide reassurance that physiotherapy at the correct intensity can help patients manage their condition and support their quality of life.

A recent report by Muscular Dystrophy UK claimed that 60% of people with muscle-wasting conditions were unable to access appropriate physiotherapy. The charity called for hospital trusts and CCGs to ensure that their local muscle team includes a specialist physiotherapist. Under the national service specification, NHS England already commissions hospital trusts to provide multi-disciplinary muscular dystrophy teams that include a neuromuscular consultant, physiotherapist and nurse, as well as an occupational therapist, a speech and language therapist, a dietitian, a psychologist and a care coordinator.

Physiotherapy can be beneficial in the management of other progressive illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and progressive supranuclear palsy, ensuring patients can make the most of their remaining mobility without overexerting themselves. The website has some interesting feedback from osteoporosis sufferers about their experiences with physiotherapy.

The Rio Paralympics is currently showcasing just how much can be achieved by those suffering from progressive illnesses, with many athletes competing in defiance of conditions such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Of course, only a few people will aspire to elite athletic performance. However, supporting patients in meeting their own personal goals is an important part of any care management strategy. And having a specially trained physio on your team can make all the difference!

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