The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists has become another UK body to offer a solution to the NHS crisis; proposing the introduction of physiotherapists in GP practices.
It is thought that up to 30% of GP appointments involve musculo-skeletal problems, many of which can be resolved by physiotherapists rather than GP. By having a physio “in-house”, GP appointments can be freed up for patients who require input from a doctor, whilst musculo-skeletal patients can be treated directly at their GP clinic. The move would allow GP’s to see more patients each day, or allow longer than 10 minutes for a standard appointment, which is often criticised as being insufficient to offer patients a full service.
The proposal has already been trialled in 36 practices in West Cheshire, with over 700 patients being re-directed for consultation with a physio.
The move is also expected to save the NHS a considerable amount of money, with each GP surgery potentially saving up to £2,500 a week by sending patients to physio. Although a national roll out of the initiative will undoubtedly require an initial amount of funding.
Many patients may be concerned that this is an attempt to pass a GP’s job over to people who, whilst professional, do not possess the training and experience of GP’s; all in an attempt to save money. Many non-musculo-skeletal conditions can present as back pain, so caution must be taken so as not to assume that all complaints are suitable for physio treatment. GP’s must still have overall responsibility for their patients and review the effectiveness of the proposal as regards to patient safety. Whilst the move may work towards solving the appointments crisis, it may create an extra layer of administration and supervision, that GP’s are already finding difficult to get on top of. Patients place a great deal of trust in GP’s, and may be reluctant to hand over their primary care to therapists who have not been to medical school.
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, has said “Whilst the services GPs and physiotherapists provide complement each other, they are very different, so whilst we would welcome better integration between the two we would recommend that any self-referral schemes reflect local needs and are continuously evaluated. We would also need assurances that patients do not fall prey to providers who are not accredited by the Charted Society of Physiotherapy, whose members are trained to the highest standards and have the skills to identify health problems that go beyond musculo-skeletal conditions”.