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Putting faith in our physios

The positive contribution that physiotherapists can make in a 21st century healthcare system is once again in the spotlight.

A post on this blog in November reported that the Welsh Reablement Alliance was lobbying to increase access to occupational therapy and physiotherapy to speed up rehabilitation times and relieve pressure on the NHS. Now Wales seems to be leading the way again with recent calls from a Cardiff University lecturer and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Wales to increase physiotherapist roles in primary care services.

RCGP Wales has said that creating more physiotherapist jobs in GP practices would lessen the workload on doctors, as well as increasing efficiency and reducing costs. This was endorsed in a recent conference speech by Healthcare Sciences lecturer Gary Morris, who was the first physiotherapist to be registered as an independent prescriber in Wales. He believes that boosting the role of physiotherapists will free up an estimated 600 GPs and save the NHS £21 million per year. 

Philippa Ford, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP) in Wales, commented, "Physiotherapists can provide real solutions in primary care and this is evident with the examples such as independent prescribing and self-referral or direct access for patients to physiotherapy."

Are we making the most of our physiotherapists?

There are more than 50,000 registered physiotherapists in the UK, already playing a vital role in the treatment and prevention of illness and injury. However, many people think their skills could be more effectively deployed by the NHS. "Physiotherapy as a profession, as a service, has much to offer, yet is so underutilised by the system," said CSP Chief Executive Karen Middleton in a recent interview with The Guardian. "We need to think differently. We need to think about keeping people out of hospital and, if not, about getting them through the system quicker."

Job opportunities

According to the CSP, the job market for physiotherapists is 'really buoyant'. "In some areas, managers don't have enough applicants," explained Kate Moran, Head of Employment Research and Policy, in another recent Guardian interview. About 90% of qualified physiotherapists work for the NHS, which according to Ms Moran has 'well-structured continuing professional development and support'.

With the government committed to the concept of seven-day working in hospitals and GP practices, spreading the workload to involve more allied health professionals seems to make sense. It also supports the planned integration of health and social care by providing a more personalised, patient-focused approach. 

Musculoskeletal problems account for one in five visits to A&E and three in 10 GP appointments. Research suggests that having a physiotherapist on hand could prevent unnecessary hospital admissions, relieve pressure on clinical staff and significantly cut healthcare costs. "Physiotherapists can make a huge difference to patient care and NHS resources by working on the frontline of primary care," said the CSP's Kate Middleton. With the right strategy, investment and support, this highly productive section of the healthcare workforce could really come into its own.

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