An exploration of first contact physiotherapy services across the UK will start this autumn backed by a grant of £764,000 from the National Institute for Health Research.
Researchers at universities, including the West of England, Brighton and Surrey, will collaborate on the project, working in partnership with Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire clinical commissioning group.
The chief investigator is Nicola Walsh, professor of knowledge mobilisation and musculoskeletal health at the University of the West of England, who said: ‘This is the UK’s first major research award to investigate different models of first contact physiotherapy.
‘I hope it will enable us, as a profession, to be much better placed to help commissioners understand the likely benefits of this service provision.’
The three-year project will start with a survey of existing first contact services, looking at the variety of providers, locations and funding models, as well as the range of competencies of the physiotherapists.
It will then make an in-depth study, investigating clinical and cost-effectiveness of three delivery models. Two of them will be first contact services. In one, the physiotherapist will use advanced practice skills, including non-medical prescribing and injection therapy. The other will be where the physiotherapist is an advanced practitioner, but without the skills to prescribe and inject.
The third model will be standard provision within a physiotherapy department where the patients have been referred by a GP or other clinicians.
Professor Walsh said the researchers will be working with commissioners, clinicians, patient groups throughout the project to update them about their findings.
‘We are doing to this to maximise the impact of our research and help commissioners to make timely, evidence-based decisions about first contact physiotherapy services,’ she said.
She described the research as ‘incredibly important’, adding: ‘As a profession, it will allow us to provide robust evidence to inform decisions about this service.’
Follow the project on its new Twitter account at @FRONTIER_FCP.
A website, www.frontierstudy.co.uk, will be available from 1 September.
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