‘Physio needs to be physical’

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PLANS by the NHS to roll out over-the-phone physiotherapy appointments to save time have been slammed.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is one of a number of UK health organisations trialling a less “hands-on” physiotherapy treatment approach by giving advice over the phone rather than face-to-face.

Health chiefs say they have seen 800 people so far, with “encouraging” results, that the system reduces waiting times and can be more convenient to fit in with patients’ busy lives.

A study by bmj.com suggests that telephone appointments reduce waiting times and provide equally good patient outcomes.

But it found patient satisfaction was lower than traditional face-to-face consultations.

Hartlepool mum-of-two Clair Gray, 30, turned over her ankle on Christmas night and was told by staff at One Life Hartlepool she had sprained it.

Clair, a customer retentions advisor for Barclays Bank who lives off West View Road, went to her own doctor a few weeks later who told her she had damaged or possibly snapped her tendons and if it had not improved to go back to her surgery to see if she would need physiotherapy.

She said: “I went back to the doctor this week and was told that they are cutting down on physiotherapy at the hospitals, so the physiotherapy department will ring you to assess you over the phone to see whether they will offer you an appointment or not.

“I’ve never heard of such a stupid system.

“I haven’t heard anything from the physio department yet but according to my doctor I need it.”

Hartlepool physiotherapist Paul Gough said: “It’s not a great system, physios are exactly that – physical therapists.

“You get better results if the person is sitting in front of you.”

But the study concluded that over-the-phone treatment was equally clinically-effective, provides faster access to advice and treatment, and “seems safe”.

Steve Pett, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust’s physiotherapy lead, said the pilot scheme has reduced physiotherapy waiting times from three weeks to one week, freeing up time for patients with more complex needs to be seen more quickly.

He added that where referrals appear straightforward, such as a common knee condition, which usually responds well to easily-followed exercise, the patient is offered a telephone appointment.

Mr Pett said: “It’s an opt-in service so the patient can say they would prefer to come in and in that case we will arrange that with them.

“Our physiotherapists are highly trained and are very good at assessing these patients over the phone and understanding what they need in terms of treatment.

“They will give them advice and exercises to do and invite them get in touch within four weeks if there has been no improvement.”

He added that the pilot scheme is being closely monitored and patients’ views are being taken into account, particularly in a small number of cases were conditions hadn’t improved and they were invited in for face-to-face consultation.