Physio self-referral is no solution to pressure on GPs, warns RCGP

Proposals to cut millions of GP appointments by allowing people with back pain to bypass GPs and self-refer to physiotherapists could put patients at risk, the RCGP has said.

Back pain: warning over self referral plans
Back pain: warning over self referral plans

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) has published a report saying that allowing patients to self-refer for back pain and musculoskeletal problems could free up 100m GP appointments a year.

Self-referral schemes would ‘create much-needed capacity in primary care’ and ‘save hundreds of millions of pounds’ for the NHS, the report says.

But the proposal has been met with criticism by the RCGP, which says that it welcomes ideas to reduce GP workload but having more GPs is the only solution to long waiting lists.

Whole-person care

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, honorary treasurer of the RCGP, said: ‘While having physiotherapists as the first point of contact for patients with back pain sounds like a good idea in principle, we would need more evidence to convince us that the benefits outweigh the risks of spending a large portion of primary care resources in this way.

‘We are very grateful to our physiotherapist colleagues for trying to come up with practical fixes but the only way to solve the current problems of long waiting lists and speed up referrals is to have more GPs who can provide ‘whole person’ care and deal with a variety of problems.’

Dr Stokes-Lampard said that a recent scheme in the Midlands was ‘totally swamped with inappropriate self-referrals and eventually shut down, leaving patients bitterly disappointed and GPs to pick up the pieces’.

‘We are concerned that this scheme would fall short in meeting patient expectations if implemented without due regard for local needs - and in some cases, compromise patient safety if non-musculoskeletal issues are overlooked,’ she said.

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