The physiotherapy workforce in Scotland

There is an urgent need to expand the supply of physiotherapists to the NHS in Scotland, which is crucial to addressing current workforce needs as well as addressing health inequities

Scotland physiotherapist

The CSP fully supported and engaged with the recent Scottish government education and workforce review, and we see an opportunity to address many of the workforce issues.  

The Scottish government has a crucial role to play in addressing the physiotherapy workforce needs.   

Without the required workforce, none of the wider ambitions for health and social care can be realised.   

An expansion of the physiotherapy workforce is crucial to address the 13-year gap in healthy life expectancy in Scotland between the richest 10 per cent and poorest 10 per cent. 

Effective NHS workforce planning in Scotland 

Vacancy rates are at record levels, averaging 11 per cent across Scotland. Staff shortages lead to longer patient waiting times, reduced capacity, additional pressure on staff and services, increased sickness and absence and loss of staff from the NHS. Almost all physiotherapy managers report staff shortages in NHS Scotland.  

Effective workforce planning is essential and has been inadequate in Scotland. While England has increased physiotherapy training places by 42 per cent in the past decade, and a further 18 per cent in the 2021/22, Scotland’s undergraduate programmes have seen virtually no increase in the past 15 years.  

The Scottish government’s AHP education and workforce review has revealed the need for a more data-rich and responsive approach which will inevitably point to the need for expansion.  

Physiotherapy is a profession ready to grow in Scotland 

Physiotherapy continues to be a popular choice for people who want to make a positive difference to the lives of others.   

Unlike many other health professions, physiotherapy is an oversubscribed subject, with 13 applications for every place in Scottish universities in 2022. This is compared to 7-8 applications per place in the rest of the UK.  

Despite buoyant applications, the number of undergraduate physiotherapy training places for first degree students in Scotland has remained static over the last decade and more.  

The CSP is calling for a planned expansion of physiotherapy training places in Scotland. 

How to expand the physiotherapy workforce

Physiotherapy workforce expansion can be achieved by:   

  • Making physiotherapy a controlled subject for workforce planning in higher education and responding to all available data to determine supply numbers and timescales required.
  • Establishing funded ‘earn and learn’ routes to provide training opportunities to staff and diversify the workforce in NHS Scotland, learning from the development of apprenticeship models in other parts of the UK. 
  • Maintaining the funded MSc physiotherapy health board bursary scheme for Scottish domiciled students as an addition to total graduate numbers.
  • Providing education routes and funding streams to support advanced practice physiotherapy to optimise roles and transform primary care.
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