Physio services in Scotland over-stretched and facing further cuts

Musculoskeletal (MSK) services for conditions such as back and neck pain are becoming gridlocked by increasing demand and restricted capacity in many parts of the country, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Scotland is warning.

The Society said it is increasingly concerned by the impact of financial pressures, decreases in staffing and rising demand on MSK outpatient services and is calling for urgent action to address the situation.

More than 49,000 in Scotland are waiting for physiotherapy, Scottish government ISD figures reveal,an increase of 14,00 patients in twelve months. 

In the same twelve-month period (September 2015 to Sept 2016) the number of patients waiting more than 16 weeks for physiotherapy has risen from around 6% to 20% of patients.

With tens of thousands of patients waiting ever longer for physiotherapy appointments, stretched services are still facing further cuts to staffing.

Recent reports have revealed the extent of pressures in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, where excessive waiting times are impacting on patients. A failure to fill vacancies due to financial constraints and efficiencies has seen waits of over 50 weeks for over eight thousand patients in South Ayrshire (2).

In NHS Lanarkshire(NB), stretched MSK outpatient services reveal figures showing that only 37% of patients are being seen within the target of four weeks with almost six thousand patients waiting for physiotherapy.

It is against this background that the service lost 2.8 full time posts last year. with plans to cut a further nine posts from the service this year, chartered physiotherapists have genuine concerns for the quality of patient care.

The Society has written to express concerns over planned cuts to services across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, where cost savings of £281,000 will equate to 8.3 whole time physiotherapy posts across MSK physiotherapy pathway, with an estimated potential to restrict or remove access for a further fourteen thousand patients in the city and region (2).

Speaking on the CSP’s growing concern for access to services, Sara Conroy, CSP Professional Adviser for Scotland, said:

‘Physiotherapy is needed more than ever to reduce pressures on A&E, GP services and orthopaedic services. Cutting back on physiotherapy is short sighted and a false economy.

‘Long waiting times risk patients’ conditions becoming chronic. That’s more costly for the NHS to treat, but it could cost the patient their health and their ability to work.

'The CSP is calling on measures to reverse cuts in funding, halt the planned cuts and instead to invest in the interests of the patients the NHS, and wider economy.’

For further information please call the CSP public affairs & policy manager for Scotland, Kenryck Lloyd-Jones, email 07881957154 or contact the CSP press office on 020 7306 1111


Note to editors


1. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is the UK’s professional, educational and trade union body. We have more than 56,000 members, including chartered physiotherapists, physiotherapy students and support workers.

2. South Ayrshire and Arran Health and Social Care Partnership Joint Board Report 09 December 2016 – ‘Musculoskeletal Service Pressures and Improvement Programme’ see

 3. Cost saving options discussed for MSK/Physiotherapy services for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde impact outlined as follows: “Reducing staffing levels will have significant impact on waiting times. If access is restricted, services currently available to approx 14,500 patients will be withdrawn. There is a risk that the available vacancies may come from highly experienced staff rather than less experienced staff. We rely on the experienced staff to support less experienced staff especially given the highly complex nature of many MSK conditions. As we cover 37 sites across NHSGGC losing highly experienced staff could result in insufficient support for less experienced staff with a risk that the more complex patients with co-morbidity may not be as effectively treated.
Locations: Insufficient /reduced staffing numbers may result in the need to reduce the number of clinics we provide an MSK service at as issues with staff cover, safety and governance may make some sites unviable.
Initial reduction in 16/17 with further review of core function of service by 1st April 2017. Reference: Meeting papers 19 August West Dunbartonshire Health and Social care Partnership, See

4. Figures quoted from Evening Times 31 01 17 (Students brought in to help ease physio waiting times)


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