Public welcomes physios working in GP surgeries, as NHS highlights the benefits

Most people would be happy to see a physiotherapist at their local surgery, instead of a GP, to receive assessments and treatment for musculoskeletal complaints.

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A new poll shows overwhelming public support for physiotherapists working in GP surgeries

This is according to a poll, conducted by market researcher Opinium on behalf of the CSP, which collected the views of 2,000 adults from across the UK.

It found that almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of people would accept the offer of an appointment with a first contact physiotherapist (FCP) if they were seeking help for a bone, joint or muscle problem. Whereas only nine per cent of those surveyed would decline.

The results show that people are overwhelmingly in favour of one of the key strategies of the NHS Long Term Plan, which aims to increase the number of first contact physiotherapists who work in GP practices.

Faster access to specialist care

Pilot schemes involving first contact physiotherapists are currently taking place in 41 of England’s 42 health areas, with the approach resulting in numerous benefits.

The service model allows patients to gain faster access to the expertise they need, eases pressures on GPs and reduces NHS costs.

Karen Middleton, CSP chief executive, said: ‘GPs and NHS decision-makers have recognised the benefits of this approach for some time and it’s encouraging to see such strong backing from the public.

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First contact physios provide patients with faster access to specialist treatment and care

‘Physiotherapists are the experts in treating bone, joint and muscle problems so it makes senses for all concerned to see them as the first point of contact.

‘They are highly trained to spot anything more serious or underlying and working alongside other professionals in these expanded teams gives patients the chance to see the right person at the right time.’

Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: ‘More physios based in community GP surgeries means people can get the treatment they need without waiting weeks to make what can be a long journey to hospital for a short appointment.

‘It is a great example of how the NHS Long Term Plan will increasingly deliver more care closer to home over the coming years.
 
‘Achieving this improvement for patients will also have a significant impact on how we currently measure waiting times for care, which is why we are working with clinicians and NHS leaders to design and test new systems, which better reflect modern care and the needs and outcomes of patients.’

NHS evaluation proves benefits of the approach

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First contact physiotherapy services cut costs and enhance patient care

An evaluation of existing first contact physiotherapy services has revealed that, in some areas, the approach is saving the health service hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Findings from pilot FCP services, which receive support from NHS England’s Elective Care Transformation Programme, show that providing people with faster treatment leads to faster recovery.

Up to seven in 10 musculoskeletal patients are successfully discharged after just one consultation with a first contact physiotherapist, according to the results. And in one part of the country the approach has reduced the number of people who require long-term physiotherapy care by a fifth.
 
FCP services also reduce the number of patients who undergo unnecessary tests, such as x-rays or scans, and lower the quantity of prescriptions handed out.

Adding to this, they lessen the number of patients who go on to require hospital treatment to decrease, which eases pressures elsewhere in the system.

Meanwhile, patient satisfaction rates for existing FCP services is consistently high, with some receiving 100 per cent scores.

Frontline recently highlighted the success of one first contact physiotherapy service in Surrey, which is reducing GP’s workloads and enhancing patient care.

National rollout

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The NHS plans to enable patients to book appointments directly with physiotherapists at GP practices

FCP services are set to expand across England as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
 
Under the plans, patients will be able to book appointments directly with physiotherapists at their local GP practice, without the need to wait for a referral or travel to a specialist clinic.

The plans will lead to the recruitment of up to 22,000 multidisciplinary staff within GP practices, including extra physiotherapists, pharmacists and social prescribers.

Physiotherapists working within primary care will be able to provide patients with musculoskeletal checks, which will help to free up time for GPs and reduce their workload – as musculoskeletal health issues currently account for around one in five of all GP appointments.

An increase in first contact physiotherapy will also reduce secondary referrals, help older people avoid falls and stay independent for longer, and save the NHS money.

Ms Middleton said: ‘The recent announcements are hugely welcome but the key now is to get them implemented across the country so patients everywhere can benefit.’

The CSP estimates there are more than 10,000 physiotherapists with the appropriate advanced practice skills needed for a first contact role.

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by Robert Millett

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