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JAN 22/2014

Can physiotherapists play a greater role in NHS care?

More physiotherapy jobs could be created within the NHS as these healthcare professionals are tipped to take on a much more prominent role in the provision of care in the near future.

Physiotherapists and podiatrists have always been vitally important in helping patients across the UK to cope with chronic pain, recuperate following an injury and recover their full range of movement and physical functionality. However, there is growing recognition that more could be done by those working in this sector to support public health.

The Department of Health is currently seeking to change the way healthcare services are organised and planned in order to provide a higher standard of care for people with long-term or chronic conditions. This new focus on prevention rather than treatment will help patients to avoid serious ailments or injuries, while reducing the number of people attending accident and emergency departments each year.

At the moment, not enough is being done to reach out to patients with chronic conditions. A recent survey of 2,000 adults by Nuffield Health showed that 45 per cent feel in pain at least once a week, rising to 71 per cent who suffer from chronic pain at least once a month.

Although more than three-quarters of sufferers said the pain negatively affected their everyday life, 59 per cent did not seek help from healthcare professionals, with many preferring to self-diagnose via internet research.

There is evidence that the government is now looking to take action to ensure physiotherapists are able to be more proactive in providing preventative care for people like this. In perhaps the biggest change, new legislation has been introduced that sees the UK become the first country in the world in which physiotherapists and podiatrists can independently prescribe medication to patients, without needing to hold further consultations with GPs.

It is expected that these changes will provide physiotherapy professionals with greater autonomy, save time for GPs and offer greater convenience to patients.

Meanwhile, British physiotherapists were also recently added for the first time to an on-call register of medical professionals who can rapidly be deployed worldwide in response to disasters or emergencies, further underlining the rising profile of this particular medical discipline.

However, more needs to be done to ensure the full potential of the sector can be unlocked - in many cases, this may require a change to the ingrained NHS culture. For example, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) last month called on NHS primary care physios to take a more open view to working in partnership with clinicians and patients, in line with wider efforts to introduce an integrated, multidisciplinary teamwork approach between different sections of the health and care industry.

Meanwhile, the recent introduction of personal health budgets - which allow people with long-term conditions to play a greater role in planning their own care using money allocated to them - opens the door for physiotherapists to become more closely involved.

Steve Tolan, Head of the CSP's practice and development unit, said: "Patients may opt for any type of service - including complementary medicine - and physios will need to market their benefits more clearly."

By seizing opportunities such as this, physiotherapists can ensure they assume a position at the heart of patient care in the 21st century NHS.

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