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Physio shortage leading to long waiting times in Scotland

Monday 24th September 2018
More than half of physiotherapy patients are taking longer than the target waiting time of four weeks to be seen on the NHS in Scotland.
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A shortage of NHS physiotherapists has left around half of patients in Scotland waiting longer than the four-week target period set by the Scottish government.

ISD Scotland figures for the three months ending on June 30th revealed only 49.9 per cent of those awaiting a first appointment for musculoskeletal services were seen within four weeks, while 12 per cent had to wait more than 16 weeks. During the quarter 81,762 patients had a first appointment.  

There was significant regional variation in service levels, with only 25.1 per cent waiting for an appointment in the NHS Lanarkshire area being seen within four weeks, while the figure was 74.7 per cent in the NHS Shetland area. 

Opposition politicians have heavily criticised the Scottish government over the news, arguing that a lack of physiotherapists is at the heart of the problem. 

Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs called the situation a “complete failure of government” and said the true figures are probably worse still because some will opt to see a private physio rather than carry on waiting in pain.

Labour's health spokesperson Anas Sarwar said the situation has arisen because the Scottish NHS "simply does not have enough staff or funding." The party said the four-week limit has now been broken over 300,000 times since it was introduced in 2016.

Cabinet secretary for health Jeane Freeman acknowledged the problem, commenting: “We are aware this needs to improve and we will continue our work to bring down waiting times. 

"This includes sharing learning from best performing boards and working with other boards to identify local solutions and new models of care.”

While the NHS in Scotland is falling short of the targets set at Holyrood, the statutory waiting time is significantly longer elsewhere.

In England, all non-emergency waiting times are set at 18 weeks, while in Wales, where physiotherapy is classed under 'diagnostic and therapy' services, the target for the commencement of therapy is 14 weeks. 
 
Written by Matthew Horton

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