'Fundamental mismatch’ may undermine workforce gains, CSP warns

Encouraging proposals contained in the long-awaited NHS workforce plan for England may not happen without more ambitious targets for physiotherapy, the CSP has warned.

Among the big wins in the NHS England-written document, which is supported by the UK government, were pledges on FCP, advanced practice and support workers.

However, physio-specific forecasts for growth in NHS posts were set at 3.3 per cent a year – failing to capitalise on the big increase in overall supply in the profession.

CSP chief executive Karen Middleton explained that this year saw an 18 per cent increase in numbers on the register, and while much of that was down to international recruitment, CSP forecasts show that growth will still be seven per cent in the coming years.

‘So a written commitment of just 3.3 per cent for the NHS is clearly insufficient when far higher numbers are available and given the enormous demand for rehab services that the plan itself so correctly identifies,’ she said.

It means there is a fundamental mismatch between the good intentions around FCP, advanced practice and rehab, and the reality of how many staff will be available to realise those plans.

Key points in the workforce plan, which was published today, include:

  • a big increase in the number of advanced practitioners by 2031
  • formal consultant level roles to continue to be developed through creative pilot development programmes. MSK is noted as a key area of focus in this area
  • a commitment to every GP surgery having an MSK FCP by 2032
  • the expansion of apprenticeships so that five per cent of physio workforce is trained this way by 2032
  • strong backing for support worker development training programme
  • a clear target to increase the workforce in community services as well as primary care
  • introduction of expert practitioners to support rehabilitation as proposed by the CSP
  • increasing the number of independent prescribers and AHPs acting as senior decision-makers in appropriate settings

The support worker, advanced practitioner and community service targets were all nursing-specific in the leaked plan but are now open to all professions following representations by the CSP and other AHP bodies.

Karen welcomed those gains.

‘We secured significant improvements through our influencing work with the government and NHSE,’ she said.

‘Physiotherapy staff - and AHPs more generally - are now well-represented and this gives us a platform on which to make further gains as the plan is implemented.

‘It is also rewarding to see the value of rehab acknowledged throughout the document – a long-overdue recognition of the impact it has on patient care and the system as a whole when it is well-funded and properly-staffed.’

But Karen also stressed the importance of the government and NHS England taking immediate
action to relieve the pressure on existing staff.

‘There remains a crisis of recruitment and retention in the physiotherapy profession that cannot be overlooked amid all the looking to the future,’ she said.

‘We will continue to bring pressure on the government, NHSE and ICSs to deliver immediate, tangible action on pay, staffing levels and career development.

‘We are particularly keen to see the specific action to be taken by NHS organisations to address the disproportionately worse experience of those staff who are disabled, from LGBTQI+ groups, and Black and minority ethnic groups as the plan describes.'

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