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GP practice physiotherapists cut GP appointments and treat patients faster

Physiotherapists based in GP practices free up GPs’ time and prevent up to three quarters of patients from needing extra appointments, NHS England has said.

In Darlington, a physiotherapist took pressure off four local GP practices by helping 1,147 patients with common musculoskeletal conditions – leading to just 2% requiring a GP appointment.

Three quarters of the patients did not need further appointments, said NHS England.

Meanwhile, a 12-month pilot in Nottingham, which saw 555 patients receive care from general practice-based physios, resulted in seven in 10 patients not requiring further treatment beyond their first or second appointment – and only 2% needing to see their GP.

Trials of ‘first contact’ physiotherapists in general practice have been taking place in 41 regions across England since March 2017 under NHS England’s elective care transformation programme, which aims to speed up treatment and reduce demand for hospitals.

NHS England claimed around 10,000 people with common musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain and arthritis, have already benefited from seeing a physiotherapist first as part of the trials.

This comes as NHS England pledged last month to fund 22,000 additional practice staff – including physiotherapists – by 2023/24 as part of the five-year GP contract.

Under the plans, patients will be able to book appointments directly with physios and other practice-based health professionals, without the need to wait for a referral or travel to a specialist clinic.

According to NHS England, physiotherapists in general practice are set to help nearly half of patients get faster treatment, saving the NHS hundreds of thousands of pounds and helping to reduce pressure on GPs.

NHS England medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: ‘More physios based in community GP surgeries means people have more choice and can get the treatment they need without waiting weeks to make what can be a long journey to hospital for a short appointment, and is a great example of how the NHS long-term plan will increasingly deliver more care options closer to home over the coming years.’

Responding to NHS plans to recruit more physiotherapists in general practice, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard warned these staff should not be used as a substitute for GPs.

She said: ‘General practice is currently facing intense resource and workforce pressures and expanding the practice team to include clinical colleagues like physiotherapists is key to addressing this, and freeing up our time for patients who need our expert generalist skills.

‘However, physiotherapists like any other member of the wider practice team, must not be seen as a substitute for GPs, and we must continue to do everything possible to build the GP workforce by the thousands we desperately need to ensure the long-term sustainability of the NHS and patient care.’