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Northern Ireland to get self-referral pilot this summer

10 March 2015 - 3:59pm

Northern Ireland will launch a physiotherapy self-referral pilot this summer, according to Dean Sullivan, director of commissioning at the health and social care board.

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Natalie Beswetherick spearheaded self-referral in Gloucestershire and emphasised the value of an incremental approach

He told a meeting of Northern Ireland’s health, social services and public safety committee on 4 March that the pilot would start ‘within the next two to three months’.

The initiative at the South Eastern health and social care trust will end Northern Ireland’s position as the only UK country not to introduce self-referral to physiotherapy.

Running for from four to six months, the pilot will handle the equivalent of 20,000 to 23,500 referrals a year, increasing capacity by from 10 to 20 per cent, according to Mr Sullivan.

A self-referral pilot at the South Eastern trust was scheduled to start in last April. The CSP had expected self-referral to be available in all regions this year, but the scheme was cancelled.

Committee member Kieran McCarthy said there was a lack of common sense about self-referral in Northern Ireland. ‘Surely somebody should be hugely embarrassed and see that we are once again lagging behind,’ he said.

Accessing the right services at the right time

Before the announcement, the committee had taken evidence from Natalie Beswetherick, CSP director of practice and development, and Tom Sullivan, public affairs and policy manager for Northern Ireland.

Tom Sullivan told the committee: ‘Self-referral aligns itself perfectly with Transforming your care.’ The 2011 review of health and social care in Northern Ireland was about patients ‘being able to access the right services at the right time in the right location’, he said.

Ms Beswetherick, who spearheaded self-referral to physiotherapy in Gloucestershire, emphasised the value of an incremental approach. She said the scheme started at three GP practices in Cheltenham before being rolled out across the county over two years.

‘The result was that waiting times came down, with the average of four to six weeks for non-urgent referrals,’ she said.

‘Did not attend rates had been about 6 to 8 per cent, but they went down to two per cent and we realised that we were seeing more patients with the same number of staff.

‘This was because each patient was requiring less intervention and we were maximising every clinic slot because we had far fewer people not turning up.’

She told the hearing that the Gloucestershire scheme showed GPs welcomed the reduction in administration. Most patients felt it had given them more control of their symptoms and equipped them to manage their own conditions.

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