Improving access to physiotherapy

Tracey Loftis says that opening access to physiotherapy is one of Arthritis UK’s main priorities.

Around 800,000 people in Scotland live with the pain of osteoarthritis – the most common form of arthritis. People with arthritis and other musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions experience a daily fight to overcome pain, fatigue and restricted movement. 

According to a recent poll in Scotland conducted by the charity Arthritis Research UK, most people with arthritis (84%) want to see politicians champion improvements in health services and the quality of care to help tackle their debilitating condition. 

We know that many people with arthritis benefit from physiotherapy, as it can reduce pain and restore movement and function for people with a musculoskeletal condition. But in a recent survey of people with arthritis, just three in 10 people surveyed had been offered non-drug treatments, such as physiotherapy for their pain. 

NHS Scotland’s own statistics show that in the final quarter of 2015, fewer than half of patients referred for musculoskeletal services, including physiotherapy, had their first clinical appointment within the four week target.  

In 2012, the Scottish government recognised that improving access allied health professionals (AHPs) was a ‘long-standing priority for services users’ and that steps should be taken to to ‘reduce unnecessary variation’ in waiting times to see AHPs. 

Physiotherapists are one of the main AHPs treating people with arthritis. From April, the aspiration was for 90% of patients to receive their initial physiotherapy appointment within four weeks of referral. 

We welcome the Scottish government’s increased focus on improving the access people with arthritis have to physiotherapy and on raising the quality of services.

Everyone with an MSK condition in Scotland has direct access to physiotherapy, while one clinical commissioning group in three offers self-referral in England. 

But, more can be done. We would like the Scottish government to work in partnership with health boards to ensure there are sufficient resources in place to meet the commitments on access to physiotherapy for people with MSK conditions. 

More information

Find out more about Arthritis Research UK.  

Tracey Loftis Head of policy and public affairs, Arthritis Research UK

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