A workforce fit for the future: rising demand for physiotherapy

Although the registered physiotherapy workforce in the UK has been expanding consistently for some time, this is not keeping pace with increasing demand

Hand rehab with two physios

The disconnect between supply and demand is due to multiple factors such as an ageing population, the after-effects of the pandemic, growing numbers of people with multiple long-term conditions and increased survival rates following stroke, trauma and cancer.  

Serving an ageing population  

The population of people aged 85+ is expected to double from 2020 to 2045.  

The number of people managing long-term conditions is also expected to increase – from half of adults aged 65+ having two or more long-term conditions to two-thirds of adults aged 65+ by 2035.   

To serve an ageing population, we must expand the physiotherapist workforce.  

Expanding the physiotherapy workforce

The CSP has identified increasing supply as a critical issue for the physiotherapy workforce’s capacity to respond to current and projected needs. This is evident from current recruitment difficulties, as well as modelling of future needs.

In the NHS over the past 10 years, there has been a lack of new posts created and poor retention of existing roles which has resulted in a high number of physios choosing to leave within the first five years of their career.  

There needs to be a dedicated expansion of physio staff and roles to meet current demand and changing population needs in the future.  

One way of doing this is by increasing the number of graduate places. The CSP is lobbying all UK governments to build an expansion of physiotherapy education into their workforce planning.

Increasing numbers of support workers  

An expansion of the non-registered physio workforce and wider rehab workforce is another way to meet the rising demand in the NHS.  

Support workers provide interventions to support physio programmes and are an integral part of a physiotherapy or multidisciplinary team. They enhance patient outcomes, improve patient experiences and increase service efficiency.   

Why expansion must be prioritised  

Expanding the physiotherapy workforce in the NHS must become a priority for the following reasons:

  • To meet the physio workforce needs of all sectors, including the independent, military, sport, social care and voluntary sectors.
  • To enable NHS policies to be delivered, meeting population needs and making the NHS more sustainable. 
  • To reduce health inequalities, for example, the 19-year gap in healthy life expectancy in England between the richest 10 per cent and poorest 10 per cent.
  • To improve retention of physiotherapy staff in the NHS – currently 7-8 per cent are leaving the NHS each year.  
  • To bring us closer to international norms of physiotherapist numbers.
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