Following his appointment as the new NHS patient and public champion, Neil Betteridge tells Graham Clews how this is likely to benefit physiotherapy
Giving patients more power to shape their own care could mean greater demand for physiotherapists, according to the man who will ensure patients are listened to as the NHS tries to hit the 18-weeks waiting target. Neil Betteridge, chief executive of Arthritis Care, was appointed last month by the Department of Health to be its patient and public champion for the 18-weeks work. As such, he will be responsible for ensuring patients' wishes are placed firmly at the centre of the push for a maximum18-weeks wait by the end of next year. Mr Betteridge will work with the national director for primary care David Colin-Thomé, and national implementation director Philippa Robinson, on the design of clinical work to meet the target. Significantly, he says giving patients a genuine say in the way their care is provided could benefit physiotherapy. Mr Betteridge helped design last year's DH Musculoskeletal Services Framework, which introduced more sophisticated triage at an early stage of primary care, and encouraged patients to become more involved in planning surgical interventions and hospital discharge. He says he now intends to champion similar developments in his new role, and that greater involvement with physiotherapists and other allied health professionals throughout patient care pathways should make patients keener to be treated by a physiotherapist. Once patients realise the value of AHPs to help manage their own care, a key part of the 18-weeks push, it would then be up to primary care trusts to ensure staffing levels are adequate, he says.'Then it is a workforce issue. Are the right people in place? Are the physiotherapists available? Do people have the right degree of expertise?' he says. 'One of the biggest areas of waste in the NHS at the moment is that some patients want to see the person in the white coat. They can wait for months to see a consultant, only to be told that what they really need is physiotherapy, or advice on diet and exercise.' Mr Betteridge, who will remain full-time chief executive of Arthritis Care while working with the 18-weeks team, says his priority will be to establish effective methods of listening to patients' views so that services can genuinely be designed around them. Existing methods only go some way to presenting a qualitative measure of patients' opinions he says, so a new system would include 'several different strands', to ensure an accurate picture of patients' views. The patients' champion says he agreed to take on the job after senior DH figures assured him the role would not just be a token to appease patients. 'They were candid with me, by saying that the 18-weeks target is not only about statistics, but also about the quality of experience that the patient enjoys along the way. And for me, that's quite radical.' Mr Betteridge, who also chairs the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance, of which the CSP is a member, says one other important role of his will be to ensure that patients are not 'trammelled or bullied' in the effort to hit the target. As far as the patients' champion is concerned, the requirement to treat patients within the target time must not outweigh the need to ensure they receive high quality treatment.
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