What are the costs to NHS Scotland of self-referral to physiotherapy? Results of a national trial



Recent healthcare policies have encouraged increasing interest in the concept of patient self-referral, specifically with regard to physiotherapy. However, what has not been known until recently is the efficacy of this mode of access within the National Health Service (NHS), including the cost implications on which to reliably base the provision of future service models.


To establish the costs to National Health Service (NHS) Scotland of differing modes of access to physiotherapy in primary care.


Cost-minimisation analysis, multi-centred national trial.


Twenty-six general practices throughout Scotland.


Three-thousand and ten patients.


Self-referral was introduced in each site in parallel with referral by a general practitioner (GP). NHS-associated cost data were collated over a full year by referral type, i.e. self-referral, GP-suggested and GP-referral groups. A cost-minimisation analysis was performed and the main outcome measures were the number of GP and physiotherapy contacts, prescribing of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics, and referral for X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging and/or secondary care. Costs were established for 2004.


The data from 3010 patients identified significant associations between referral group and prescribing, referral for X-ray and to secondary care, and GP and physiotherapy contacts (P<0.001). The average cost of an episode of care was established as £66.31 for a self-referral, £79.50 for a GP-suggested referral and £88.99 for a GP referral. Extrapolated to identify national implications, the average cost benefit to NHS Scotland was identified as being approximately £2 million per annum.


There are significant positive implications associated with self-referral to physiotherapy that represent added value for NHS Scotland. These implications are also of relevance to the rest of the NHS in the UK.


What are the costs to NHS Scotland of self-referral to physiotherapy? Results of a national trial
Lesley K. Holdsworth, Valerie S. Webster, Angus K. McFadyen, on behalf of the Scottish Physiotherapy Self-Referral Study Group
Physiotherapy - March 2007 (Vol. 93, Issue 1, Pages 3-11, DOI: 10.1016/j.physio.2006.05.005)