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Physiotherapy 2012: ‘Frontline’ physios praised by top NHS officer as cuts bite

15 October 2012 - 3:47pm

Physiotherapy staff working in ‘frontline’ services at a time of mounting austerity in the NHS were praised by Karen Middleton, chief health professions officer at the Department of Health. 

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Karen Middleton, Department of Health chief health professions officer, speaking at Physiotherapy UK 2012 - Photo: Gabriel Szabo/Guzelian

These practitioners were in the ‘hardest place to be’, she said - sandwiched between patients’ rising expectations and a need to save £20 billion from the NHS budget in the next few years.
 
Ms Middleton, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist by background, told delegates that the sudden, irreversible end to steadily rising funding meant the NHS must become ‘smaller’. ‘Something completely and radically different through innovation’ was required.
 
Though the health service could be proud of its record on developing innovations and piloting them, it fell down on ensuring the system as a whole adopted them. Research showed that it took up to 18 years for successful new ideas to be implemented in the NHS, she said.
 
Delegates were asked to imagine that an innovation was a life-saving one, and to ask themselves how many people would die in areas lagging behind pioneers and early-adopters. Sometimes changes were resisted by staff who say ‘my patients are different’ or who are guided by self-interest, Ms Middleton suggested.
 
In the past, NHS ‘customers’ were generally ‘grateful’ for any treatment they received, said Ms Middleton. But patients today expected care to be delivered ‘24-7 –  where, when and how they wanted it’.
 
There was already a two-tier service in the NHS, with patients admitted to hospital on Saturdays or Sundays being 11 and 16 per cent respectively more likely to die than their counterparts who came in on a weekday.
 
Turning to seven-day working initiatives, Ms Middleton said that physios who resisted them would find it hard to argue that their contribution was ‘vital’ in discussions with commissioners.
 
Urging physios to make the ‘rehabilitation agenda’ their own and prove the economic value of their interventions in a ‘forensic’ way, Ms Middleton concluded: ‘You can put your head in the sand or you can grab hold of that agenda and make it your own.’

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