Physio 15: Physios can improve public health by influencing behaviour and promoting physical activity

Physiotherapists are ideally placed to change the health behaviour of patients and should be taking the lead on physical activity as a targeted intervention.


Anna Lowe, warned of an unsustainable health and social care system. Photo: Guzelian

These were some of the messages from physiotherapist Anna Lowe, a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University.

She warned delegates that the physiotherapy profession needs to ‘future-proof’ its workforce to ensure it is equipped to meet the public health needs of a changing population.

Projected population changes indicate that the number of people living with long-term conditions will rise, she said, and this could make the current health and social care system ‘completely unsustainable.’

‘£7 out of every £10 of health and social care money is spent on long-term conditions,’ said Ms Lowe.

‘And the average annual cost for a person with one long-term condition is £1,000. That rises to £3,000 for people with two or more long-term conditions and £8,000 for those with three or more complex co-morbidities.’

Putting the issue into the context of Liverpool, where the conference was held, Ms Lowe said about 60 per cent of the city’s population had two or more long-term conditions. In addition, two in three adult Liverpudlians are deemed ‘inactive’.

Future-proofing education

To combat the rise of people with long-term conditions, physios themselves needed public health education, Ms Lowe advised.

She told delegates: ‘If we can equip our graduates and our current workforce with a basic understanding of the principles underlying public health it will enable us to engage in conversations with people outside physiotherapy and help them understand where our contribution fits in.

‘We have a real opportunity to develop our links and connect with community assets, whether they are private, local government health champions, volunteer-led or charities.’

Massive opportunity

Referring to King’s Fund research, Ms Lowe said health behaviour patterns contribute as much as 40 per cent to people’s overall health, in comparison to a 10 per cent contribution from health care.

‘As physios we have a massive opportunity to engage people in conversations about their general health, as well as addressing their presenting complaints,’ she told delegates.

‘Every patient should have the opportunity to discuss physical activity – so we need to raise it in our value system and show that it is a core part of healthcare and not just an add on.’

A blog post of resources associated with Ms Lowe’s presentation is available at:

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