The great debate: Are physiotherapists the exercise specialists of choice for people with long-term conditions? Photo: Simon Hadley
Anna Lowe, a module leader from Sheffield Hallam University, said it was vital that students were equipped to work across the health and fitness sectors by the time they graduated.
Ms Lowe was one of dozens of speakers, supplemented by many more commenting via Twitter, who took part in a lively debate. The motion asked: ‘Are physiotherapists the exercise specialists of choice for people with long-term conditions?’
Delegates overwhelmingly backed the motion, with one speaker on the four-person panel, John Buckley, estimating the proportion in favour to be seven to three.
Video: Karen Barker on the importance of physiotherapy in long-term MSK care
Though Dr Buckley, who leads postgraduate studies in cardiovascular health, rehabilitation and applied exercise physiology at the University of Chester, opposed the motion, he said he was pleased with the result.
Dr Buckley, the only non-physio panel member, said that even if universities such as Sheffield Hallam and Keele were now bolstering undergraduate modules on exercise, the debate was about the ‘here and now’. ‘I think you have an identity crisis, trying to be all things to all people,’ he said.
The debate was kicked off by Gwyn Owen, a CSP professional adviser, who took delegates on whirlwind tour of the evolution of the profession during the last century and into this one.
Reminding delegates that physiotherapy’s roots lay in areas such as Swedish remedial exercise, remedial gymnastics and ‘massage, manipulation and movement’, Ms Owen said it was clear that physios were the ‘experts of choice’.
Seconding Ms Owen’s standpoint was Colin Paterson, a practice fellow at Bournemouth University who chairs the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports and Exercise Medicine.
Mr Paterson described problems over people’s adherence to exercise programmes as the field’s ‘Achilles heel’. ‘Physiotherapists are ideally placed to overcome a lack of adherence,’ he said.
The second panel member opposing the motion was Karen Barker, clinical director and head of physiotherapy at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital in Oxford. Stressing that physiotherapy was a ‘broad church’, she said that exercise was just one out of 10 or so modalities available to a practitioner.
With 15 million people in the country affected by a long-term condition – one third of whom had musculoskeletal problems – and with rising financial pressures on the NHS, Dr Barker said ‘doing more of the same will not be sustainable’.
She said the physio’s role lay in ‘advising and empowering patients to self-manage’ their conditions and helping to link them into sustainable exercise programmes in the community.