Lack of physios leaves patients in pain

A SEVERE shortage of physiotherapists has left patients in Suffolk waiting for up to 21 weeks for appointments, new figures have shown.

Rebecca Lefort

A SEVERE shortage of physiotherapists has left patients in Suffolk waiting for up to 21 weeks for appointments, new figures have shown.

The problem is particularly acute in the west of the county were healthcare bosses are struggling to recruit high-calibre physiotherapists because they earn less than their nearby Cambridgeshire counterparts.

At this week's health scrutiny committee meeting councillors criticised Suffolk Community Healthcare (SCH) for the long NHS waiting times which they said left patients in pain for extended periods.

Trevor Beckwith, a St Edmundsbury district councillor, said at the meeting at Ipswich's Endeavour House: “I saw a GP who said to me 'Yes, I can refer you to an NHS physiotherapist but don't hold your breath - go private if you're in pain and want to get treated.'

“It is an important service and it shouldn't happen like this.”

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Figures show that the provision of physiotherapy services across Suffolk varies widely, with people getting treated within three to eight weeks at clinics in Ipswich, while in Sudbury appointments may take up to 21 weeks, and in Newmarket people wait for up to 18 weeks.

Jo Douglas, head of specialist services at SCH, said: “I am very happy to accept that the service in the west is not very good. We are not proud of it at all.

“It has been a poor service for a very long period of time and that takes a long time to get over.

“There have been differences between the east and the west and admittedly there is an awful long way to go.

“We have put a request in to NHS Suffolk for more physiotherapists to address the waiting times in Sudbury and Newmarket.

“I am very confident that once we get through the backlog then the referrals will be able to be dealt with in a much quicker time.”

Physiotherapy in Suffolk is provided by Ipswich Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital as well as SCH and commissioned by NHS Suffolk. Around 7,000 new adult patients are seen each year in Suffolk, with about 22,000 scheduled appointments.

Mrs Douglas said SCH had asked NHS Suffolk for more money to fund extra physiotherapists, but she added: “We have real problems in some areas of Suffolk recruiting. The areas in the west of the county are particularly bad because if you go to work in Cambridgeshire you get paid more money because they get a bonus because it costs more to live there.

“We have to try to recruit staff where they know they will have to earn a little less money.”

Anne Nicholls of the interim Local Involvement Network patient group said after the meeting that the problem of physiotherapists had caused distress for many patients.

She added: “It is a big, big problem. It is something patients are concerned about and have been for a long period of time.

“The waiting list at the Walnuttree (hospital, in Sudbury) is unacceptable. Quite a lot of people have to wait so long they may get better on their own or chose to get treated elsewhere.”