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30 May 2024

NHS physio shortage leaves a surge in waiting lists

NHS physio shortage leaves a surge in waiting lists

As seen in the news over the bank holiday weekend, leading clinicians have warned that the rising number of people waiting for physiotherapy treatment is causing problems in other parts of the NHS and harming the UK’s economy. Waiting lists for treatment of MSK problems, such as back, neck, and knee pain, have grown by 27% since January last year. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) highlights that the number of physiotherapy posts in the NHS has not kept pace with the demand from Britain’s ageing and increasingly obese population. 

To meet the rising demand, the CSP asserts that the UK needs a 7% annual increase in NHS physiotherapy positions. Untreated musculoskeletal conditions can become more complex, potentially leading to mental health issues, the need for surgery, and prolonged time off work, thus placing further pressures on other services within the NHS.  

Recent NHS community health service figures reveal that 323,965 people were waiting for MSK treatment in March, a year-on-year increase of 33,257 or 11%, and 27% higher than the 254,521 people waiting in January 2023. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently criticised Britain’s ’sicknote culture,’ noting that 2.8 million working-age people are economically inactive. Ministers have focused on rising mental ill health, arguing that doctors are 'overmedicalising' conditions and proposing to cut benefits for 420,000 sick and disabled people. 

However, the Health Foundation reports that more and more people are reported to be living with chronic pain. Google searches regarding chronic pain reached record levels in the UK earlier this year, with searches specifically for lower back pain peaking in March. Meanwhile. Sara Hazzard, the Assistant Director of the CSP and co-chair of the Community Rehabilitation Alliance, stated that whilst many people want to become physiotherapists, there is a shortage of NHS positions.  

‘We haven’t got posts being created where people need them, so people are not able to get appointments,’ she said. The lack of treatment has led to a ‘snowball’ effect where people’s mental health then begins to deteriorate due to pain, resulting in additional problems. This prevents individuals from returning to work, and following these prolonged periods of absence, it becomes very difficult for them to re-enter the workforce. 

In summary, the escalating wait times for NHS physiotherapy treatment are having significant repercussions on other healthcare services and the wider UK economy, with the strain on NHS resources becoming increasingly evident. Addressing these gaps in physiotherapy provision and therefore reducing wait times is essential in preventing further deterioration of patient health and mitigating the broader impacts on the NHS and the economy. 

Read the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/article/2024/may/26/shortage-of-nhs-physio-roles-leaves-patients-in-pain-as-waiting-lists-soar  

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