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Self-referral could boost physiotherapy job market

A call from MPs for self-referral to be rolled out across the UK is likely to further improve employment opportunities for physiotherapists.

A recent report by the House of Commons Health Committee says that allowing patients to self-refer to practice-based physiotherapists would 'reduce onward referrals and improve patient satisfaction levels'. The committee looked at evidence from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), which shows that self-referral can relieve pressure on GPs, reduce waiting lists and save money.

Giving evidence to the committee, CSP Chief Executive Karen Middleton spoke of her Suffolk-based social enterprise model, Allied Health Professionals. This provides self-referral physiotherapy services at 27 sites across the county, including health centres, GP practices, clinics and hospital outpatient departments. A number of other NHS trusts also run similar schemes, including South Eastern, Gloucestershire Hospitals and Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust.

Physiotherapy self-referral fits in with the idea of finding new models of care outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View and using the skills of allied health professionals to deliver a seven-day NHS (which we discussed in a recent blog post). It's a positive move which is set to enhance the status of everyone in the profession, including the many locum physiotherapists we work closely with at Sanctuary, who provide much-needed short-term and tactical support in a variety of settings.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, 553,000 people suffered from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) during 2014-15. That's 44% of all work-related illnesses and over 9 million lost working days. The CSP says people who self-refer to physiotherapy take fewer days off and are 50% less likely to be off for more than a month than those who have a conventional GP referral.

The Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) programme in England has endorsed self-referral for MSDs. Its research shows savings of over £25,000 per 100,000 people as a result of less GP contact, prescribing and diagnostic imaging.

"What we need now is bold new service solutions... ones that are ready-made and use the potential of other professionals in the NHS, including physiotherapists," wrote Karen Middleton in a recent article for the NHS Confederation website. "Increasingly, GPs are inviting physiotherapists - with the skills and experience to assess, diagnose and treat – to work in their surgeries to help manage these cases as the first point of contact."

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