How much should we be promoting physiotherapy to the UK public?

Rob Yeldham explains how the promotion of physiotherapy in the UK takes many forms, and members are central to their delivery

by Rob Yeldham

Our colleagues at the Australian Physiotherapy Association have just launched a new marketing campaign. As a comms professional I love what they’re doing and hope it really boosts the profession in Australia.

We know from research amongst CSP members that you would like to see a higher profile for physiotherapy in the UK mainstream media, whether through advertising or “earned” coverage. Promoting physiotherapy to patients and public is one of the three priorities for the CSP’s communications strategy; the others are influencing decision makers and engaging our members.

The UK market needs its own approach

There are some significant differences between the UK and Australia. In countries where most physiotherapy is “bought” by the patient, directly marketing the profession is important. Potential patients are confronted with a bewildering array of different professions. Patients may not know or care about the differences between physiotherapy, sports therapy, chiropractic and osteopathy. But what is right for Australian physiotherapy is not necessarily the right prescription for the UK.

In the UK most patients don’t choose their own treatment. NHS commissioners or planners, GPs, employer occupational health schemes or insurance companies have more influence over the provision of physiotherapy than the consumer market. The most effective promotion of physiotherapy here is therefore targeted at the people who hold the purse strings. That is why the CSP has, for several years, prioritised promoting physiotherapy to GPs, commissioners, boards, politicians and policy makers. It has worked – our research amongst GPs for example has shown growing awareness of, and support for, physiotherapy provision. Despite self-referral expanding, GPs remain key gatekeepers.

We still need public promotion

However, there is an important place for public facing promotion of physiotherapy. Having good public understanding of the role of physios is important. Public awareness directly helps those services which are independent of the NHS and who are competing for patients with other professions. As importantly, public support can help influence commissioners and other decision makers. We do put a significant effort into media work and have been increasingly developing different ways of getting messages out to the public. The back pain myth busters campaign and recent animation are good examples. We plan to do more.

Like our Australian colleagues, we have identified the need for more high quality online information for patients. The CSP is mid way through a total rebuild of the CSP website. This will make it more mobile friendly and easier to use. Crucially, the new site is being designed to serve the public, patient and non-physio stakeholders as the primary audience. We want the CSP site to be the main UK digital contact point for non-physios looking for information on physiotherapy and the conditions physiotherapy can help with. We are already in the top three Google organic search results for “physiotherapy”, and we have more non-physio visitors than members using the site. Our challenge is to develop or link to high quality patient content.

Campaigning where we can make a difference

We are currently researching the potential for a new public facing campaign. We have undertaken research with members and other stakeholders. We’ve not yet agreed the final focus or the level of resourcing for the campaign. So watch this space.

The campaign, if agreed, may include; new videos, media work, social media advertising, online advertising, new patient advice resources, events with patient organisations and local promotional activities for members to get involved in. It is not likely to include advertising campaign across television, radio, the press and outdoor sites. Mainstream advertising in the UK is very expensive and not very targeted. We estimate that a minimal, genuinely UK wide ad campaign, would cost over £1million to run, and this would not even include television advertising. To be effective a campaign would need to be run at least annually over several years. The CSP’s campaigns and marketing spend is around £300,000pa. Using PR to earn coverage, and digital to reach target patient audiences, is therefore a more realistic option for us.

We need you to help

Promoting physiotherapy is not just the job of the CSP’s comms team. Provider organisations, CSP professional and regional networks and individual members can all help. To get greater public awareness of physiotherapy we need your help.

If you have five minutes, you could:

  • Sign up to Twitter or Facebook and start sharing CSP posts promoting physiotherapy with your contacts
  • Order promotional posters and leaflets from the CSP to display at your practice or service

 If you have more time, you could:

  • Contact and offer to be a media spokesperson (full support is given by our professional press team)

 Rob Yeldham is CSP's director of strategy, policy and engagement. Follow Rob on Twitter at @robyeldham.


1. Earned media is a term for press or media coverage which is the result of public relations activity, rather than paid for advertising.

2. Not paid for

3. London, East of England, Easts Mids, Yorks & Humber or North East ; South West, SE Coast, Channel Islands, South Central, West Mids, North West or Isle of Man; Wales ; Scotland ; Northern Ireland

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