NHS England does not publish waiting times for physiotherapy referral. However, freedom of information requests sent by business health specialists Equipsme reveal that patients are waiting an average of 45 days for routine and 18 days for urgent appointments. Waiting times are also higher than they were two years ago (42 days for routine, 16 for urgent).
In 21 of the 106 NHS Trusts which responded to the request and held the data, patients had to wait for over two months (60 days) for a routine appointment.
Patients referred to East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust faced the longest wait – waiting four months (132 days) for routine appointments in the year to April 2019, compared to two months (77 days) two years previously. Patients referred for an urgent appointment were seen within an average of 34 days. The Trust has seen a 15% increase in patient referrals in the past two years, with 25,748 people booking in for a physiotherapy appointment in the latest year.
The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has the longest waiting list for urgent appointments, with 54 days between referral and first appointment.
The shortest wait for physiotherapy was in Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust, where 27,154 patients waited an average of 14 days for a routine appointment and just 1 day for an urgent appointment.
Chartered physiotherapist Sammy Margo warns that pains or injuries that require physiotherapy treatment such as strains and sprains can turn into long term health problems if left untreated.
“Those acute injuries can become chronic problems,” she says. “Ongoing pain and the consequent reduced mobility may mean the start of deteriorating health, for example if it leads to an inactive lifestyle which increases the risk of obesity and heart disease.”
“Mobility and dexterity are all part of the big picture. Those who experience ongoing back pain may also experience a mental health problem, for example.”
“Early intervention may prevent problems from escalating into more serious issues. It can reduce the need for long term care for an aging population. It is never just about ‘back pain’ – it’s about quality of life.”
Equipsme managing director and founder Matthew Reed said: “Bone, joint and muscle problems are the second biggest cause of people being too unwell to work – second only to minor illnesses such as coughs and colds. Some 28 million working days were lost last year according to ONS estimates.”
“These waiting times should be of concern to any business that wants a healthy workforce just as much as they should concern politicians.”
NHS Scotland reports that 44.9% of patients referred for physiotherapy treatment were seen within four weeks between April and June 2019. In Wales, 63% of patients were seen within four weeks in September, the most recent figures available.
Most patients require a referral from their GP to see a physiotherapist, with the appointment taking place at a hospital. However, some regions have been moved onto a new a system to allow patients to make an initial appointment with a physiotherapist based in GP practices. The government intends to roll these out nationally under the NHS Long Term Plan.
Of the Trusts that currently offer or are piloting physiotherapy appointments within GP surgeries, the average waiting time was not much lower. Patients waited 44 days for routine and 16 days for urgent appointments.
The longest waiting times
Waiting times (days) for routine physiotherapy appointments
(year to 4 April 2019)
|East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust
|Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
|South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust
|Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust - Berkshire West
|St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
|King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
|Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
|Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
|Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust
|The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Equipsme offers affordable and simple health insurance for businesses who give staff better access to healthcare. Plans start at £7 per person per month and include private physiotherapy appointments in addition to a remote GP service, NHS-registered doctors offering consultations by phone or video, private prescription delivery, an online health check and access to AXA Health’s nurse helpline.
Equipsme was the first new health insurance provider in over a decade when it launched 18 months ago.
It won “Best New Product - Innovation Award” at the Cover Excellence Awards in October 2019.