NHS England plans revamp of referral process to speed up access to physiotherapy

People with back pain could get faster access to physiotherapy, following a planned review of NHS England’s referral management processes.


NHS England say patients with back pain could have quicker access to physiotherapy 

This is according to a progress report on NHS England’s five-year strategy, published today.

It claims that a review of patient pathways, and changes to how referrals are managed, may ‘allow speedier access to physiotherapy for musculoskeletal patients with back pain’.

Rachel Newton, CSP policy chief, welcomed the report’s recognition of the need to speed up access to physiotherapy.

‘But the report is not explicit enough in how this needs to be done or the support NHS England will provide,’ she said, suggesting that self-referral was the way forward.

‘Allowing people to self-refer themselves to physiotherapy is tried and tested – it cuts costs and is better for patients.

‘And the newest model of self-referral is the development of GP physio roles. This development is changing the pathway so that people have quick access to an expert from the start – and the minority of patients who need further investigations, treatment or surgery can be quickly and appropriately referred on for this.’

Waiting times and A&E pressures

Some urgent care services are ‘struggling to cope with rising demand’, the report says, and millions of A&E visits could be better dealt with elsewhere.

As a result, NHS England plans to free up 2,000-3,000 hospital beds by working more closely with community services and councils. Meanwhile patients with less severe conditions will receive alternatives to A&E, including access to more doctors, GP appointments and a network of newly designated urgent treatment centres.

However, due to ‘constrained NHS funding growth’ the health service says it will no longer aim to achieve its previous target of carrying out 92 per cent of non-urgent operations within 18-weeks.

Chronic underfunding

Karen Middleton, CSP chief executive, said: 'This delivery plan reveals the position the NHS finds itself in because of chronic underfunding – having to choose between leaving people in pain for longer, or heaping further pressure on A&E.

'The forward view was a brave vision that is already showing the way forward through initiatives like expanded primary care teams and more care closer to home.

'Our members are at the forefront of those changes, giving patients faster access to the specialist care they need in GP surgeries and other services.

'Extra funding needs to be matched by a commitment to also deliver the workforce that is required - including the additional 500 physiotherapists our modelling shows we need.'

Author: Robert Millett


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