PCNs urged to recruit physiotherapists amid MSK appointments backlog

PCNs have been urged employ first contact physiotherapists (FCPs) to reduce pressure on GPs and combat a backlog of musculoskeletal appointments that have arisen as a result of the pandemic.

Google searches for back pain help rose sharply during lockdown (Photo: Pawita Warasiri/EyeEm/Getty Images)
Google searches for back pain help rose sharply during lockdown (Photo: Pawita Warasiri/EyeEm/Getty Images)

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said that inactivity and stress caused by lockdown, and the reluctance of many people to seek GP appointments during the pandemic, are expected to lead to a rise in the number of patients presenting to practices with joint pain.

Google searches for back pain help rose sharply during April and May, according to CSP analysis, while physiotherapists have reported increasing numbers of patients suffering lockdown-related pain.

Additional roles funding

In light of this CSP has urged PCN clinical directors to ‘act quickly’ and use available funding to employ FCPs to support GPs with large numbers of appointments.

The CSP said that FCPs have proven ‘highly effective’ during the pandemic due to their ability to work virtually and support self-management for patients at home.

It added that FCPs would be able to work independently to release GP capacity and provide faster access to treatment for patients.

Under the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS) that forms a key plank of the funding PCNs receive, networks can claim 100% reimbursement for hiring FCPs. By 2023/24 it is expected that all patients will have direct access to a FCP.

But NHS England bosses recently warned practices that millions of pounds of ARRS funding for 2020/21 could be lost if they failed to employ new staff roles.

Free GP capacity

Head of FCP implementation at the CSP Larry Koyama said: ‘FCPs are proven to deliver excellent patient care while easing pressures on GPs and reducing onward referrals for tests, scans and secondary care.

‘That’s why it is now more crucial than ever for PCNs to take up funding for these roles as COVID-19, months of lockdown and reduced activity levels will have had a serious deconditioning effect on millions of people.

‘FCPs can use their expertise to meet this demand, allowing GPs to concentrate on medical cases and the expected increase in appointments sought by people recovering from the pandemic. There’s funding and there’s a significant need, so we are strongly urging PCNs to include FCPs in their workforce plans.

PCN workforce

Funds worth £430m have been made available to practice in England in 2020/21 to employ new staff across 10 workforce roles, with a number of roles, including mental health practitioners, to be added in 2021/22.

A report by NHS Confederation looking into PCNs one year on found that allied healthcare staff had played a key role in helping to ease workload pressures and forge strong links with other stakeholders. But it also highlighted problems around recruitment in some areas, particulalry London, because of an unequal spread of workers across the nation.

Meanwhile, GPs recently demanded more resources to support social prescribers, another role covered by the ARRS, after a poll found almost a third could quit over a lack of support that has deepened in the COVID-19.

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