Minister spells out plans to cut waits for physio

Health secretary Alan Johnson put the spotlight on allied health professionals when he launched a package of reforms intended to radically improve access to services.

Framing the Contribution of Allied Health Professionals, announced at the chief health professions officer’s conference last month, sets out how AHP services must change to meet Lord Darzi’s NHS Next Stage Review call for more patient choice and service flexibility. For the first time, the minister recommended self referral be promoted and extended across England to reduce ‘excessively long waits’. His statement was made in tandem with the publication of the results of the joint Department of Health and CSP national physiotherapy pilots (see page 4). The health secretary added that strategic health authorities, primary care trusts and acute trusts would be required to work with AHPs ‘to improve access to these essential services’. An announcement on funding self referral would be made later this month. The framework also introduces mandatory data collection for referral-to-treatment by 2010, along with the development of new quality metrics to measure effectiveness. These will be piloted in the community next year. CSP chief executive Phil Gray said the focus on reducing waiting lists and collecting AHP data was ‘enormously important’, adding that it was the first time the government had acknowledged there was a problem with AHP waiting times in England. ‘Until now there has been no target for delivering AHP services, unless they have been wrapped up in the 18-week target,’ he said, although Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had been collecting AHP data for years. This had led to neglect in tackling unacceptably long waits for physiotherapy, often of more than 20 weeks. Now, Mr Gray said, physiotherapists must take the opportunity to get involved in the government’s agenda on reducing sickness claims, as set out in Dame Carol Black’s report Working for a Healthier Tomorrow, published earlier this year. The government is to publish its response to that report later this month. ‘If the government is serious about getting people back into work then self referral has got to be part of the armoury in dealing with long waiting lists. Inevitably, this will require investment into more physiotherapy resources,’ Mr Gray said. Chief health professions officer Karen Middleton said the DH would be doing ‘a significant piece of work’ with professional bodies, researchers and academics to come up with quality metrics that measured whether AHP services were ‘safe, effective and a good experience for patients’. The framework was a chance for AHP services to prove their worth. ‘We’ve complained in the past that we haven’t had targets to specifically measure our services and that our services weren’t that visible,’ she said. ‘I’m beginning to think you should be careful what you wish... It’s crucial you are ready with the data to back up what we’re saying AHPs can deliver.’  FURTHER INFORMATION The document can be seen at
Louise Hunt

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