NHS physios 'stretched to the limit'

  • Friday 07 October 2011

Patients waiting up to 27 weeks for access to NHS care

Patients are waiting up to 27 weeks for access to an NHS physiotherapist, with one in four physiotherapy managers reporting safety concerns as services struggle to cope with budget cuts and staff shortages, according to 'Stretched to the limit', a report from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP).

The report draws on analysis of statistics gained through an audit of 115 of England's primary care trusts (76% responded) using Freedom of Information laws, as well as two separate surveys  of physiotherapy managers (one based on 97 responses, and one based on 129 responses).

As well as waiting times of up to 27 weeks in the worst cases, potentially causing patients' conditions to worsen, nearly two-thirds of managers surveyed said they do not expect to have sufficient resources this financial year. 57% reported cuts to patient services, nearly 60% said cuts would reduce the number of sessions a patient could receive and one in four said patient safety was compromised by the cuts.

70% of those who reported safety concerns also said they had seen cuts in specialist physio posts, with jobs being given to less-experienced physiotherapists as a cost-saving practice.

A case study in Nottingham showed that budget cuts and the resultant overspend led to severe rationing of physiotherapy services, with patients required to have two GP visits, at least six weeks apart before referral, and then receiving only one assessment and one follow-up session before being discharged. Their only options were to seek hospital treatment, private care or simply endure the pain.

The report follows research carried out by Health Insurance last year which uncovered widespread variations in access to treatment for musculoskeletal conditions (http://www.hi-mag.com/health-insurance/product-area/pmi/article364712.ece).

Phil Gray, chief executive of the CSP, said: "This report paints a disturbing picture of what is happening right now to NHS physiotherapy services across the country. Patients are waiting longer to get the physiotherapy treatment they need, which increases the risk that their condition will worsen."

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