A recent audit of physiotherapy services by the Chartered Institute of Physiotherapists, found that patients in the NHS are having to wait more than six months for the service.
The report adds that delays mean patients’ conditions deteriorate, leading to re-admission to hospital and higher long-term costs for the NHS and Social Services. This is typical short-term thinking which is self-defeating as well as poor quality care.
There is nothing new in these findings as far as elderly people are concerned. Twenty years ago when I was involved in nursing homes in partnership with the NHS, physiotherapists were never available to older people who were considered ‘low priority’ – actually NO priority – because they were ‘economically inactive’. This short-sighted thinking meant that many elderly people spent longer in hospital and when they were discharged they were often unable to return home and had to go into a residential home.
Even more appallingly they often came out unable to walk and were confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives !
In the ExtraCare Charitable Trust we employed physiotherapists at our own expense and were often able to improve people’s mobility. Later, when we started to build retirement villages, we incorporated a small fitness centre, and with appropriate gym equipment and professional support, residents were able to improve significantly. Many to the point where they could walk again. In a follow-up research study in one village alone, we were able to show savings to the NHS of £500,000 over a three-year period from shorter hospital stays and reduced re-admissions.
In a health service focussed on long-term health outcomes rather than short-term targets, physiotherapy services need to be a vital ingredient in rehabilitative health care.
The same situation applies with shortage of speech therapists, who are essential in helping recover speech and swallowing after strokes. Without them, many elderly stroke victims are left unable to communicate and often have to eat mashed up food for the rest of their lives.