There is a growing need for more physiotherapy staff in the UK, but what steps do each of the four nations need to take in order to meet the rising demand?
The physiotherapy workforce is ripe for expansion. This is good news for the public, policy makers and service providers. The UK has an ageing population, growing numbers of people managing multiple long-term conditions and increased survival rates following stroke, trauma, and cancer.
But it is only by expanding the physiotherapy workforce that the widening gap in healthy life expectancy can be reduced. The potential supply is there: across the UK there are many more applicants to physiotherapy pre-reg courses than there are places. Furthermore, apprenticeships stand ready to be part of the solution – providing training and career opportunities for support workers, and registered physios at all levels of practice.
But the barriers to capitalising on that potential are different in each of the four nations of the UK, with different action needed to overcome these.
Physiotherapy should be a ‘controlled subject’ in Scotland.
In Scotland, graduate numbers have flatlined for many years. The crux of the problem is that universities have been given little financial incentive to expand provision for the domestic workforce, and incentivised to attract international students, whose fees effectively subsidise Scottish physiotherapy training courses.
The CSP is working with leading members in universities and practice to lobby for physiotherapy to become a controlled subject, which is the case for paramedics.
This would mean that the government could require universities to provide a certain number of places to grow the domestic workforce needed for the health service.
Physiotherapy staffing numbers in NHS services in England should expand in line with growth.
In the last decade England has experienced an increase in the number of registered physiotherapists and with an expanding student population more growth is to follow.
While more is needed, this is positive news for all sectors where physiotherapists work but especially for the NHS, which is currently experiencing unprecedented demand amidst a dire workforce crisis.
The CSP is calling for physio staffing in the NHS to increase in line with growth, and for this to be in forthcoming workforce plans.
Northern Ireland needs a further physio pre-reg programme.
With vacancy rates on average standing more than 12 per cent across the region, the priority for Northern Ireland, as in Scotland, is tackling insufficient growth in graduate numbers and in students coming up behind them.
In Northern Ireland places are commissioned. There has been a commitment to growth and the CSP is lobbying for this to be fulfilled - challenging attempts to row back on this promise.
The situation in Northern Ireland is further complicated by there being no chief allied health professional officer in place at the Department of Health. Beyond existing commitments, any further growth will depend on an expansion in education provision.
A new physio education funding policy that delivers more physios for Wales.
Following lobbying from the CSP for the streamlining scheme to be scrapped, the CSP is actively involved in shaping how the future bursary policy delivers the expansion in the workforce required.
Look out for new CSP resources
Later in the year, the CSP will be launching the results of an audit of the physiotherapy workforce, bringing together data on the shape and size of the workforce.
This will be launched alongside a national webinar for CSP members, who are involved in workforce planning, to learn from their peers about how to make a strong case for more staff.
In the meantime, the CSP will be gathering insight from independent providers who have 20+ employers into their workforce needs now and in the future.
If you are interested in taking part in this, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and put ‘Independent provider workforce needs’ in the subject heading.
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