Why are First Contact Practitioners Important?

Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions affect 1 in 4 people in the UK and are the leading cause of years lived with disability. There are over 200 diagnosable MSK conditions affecting joints, bones and muscles, including autoimmune diseases and back pain (Department of Health, 2006). The demand for MSK services is high and meeting the needs of the population requires streamlined pathways with multi-disciplinary implementation based on the latest research and national guidance. 

Working in partnership with the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance, NHS England have published guidelines for the improvement of MSK elective care networks and pathways (2017). This is part of the NHS England’s Long-Term Plan (2019). The guidance aims to:

  • Reduce inequalities and improve outcomes for patients with musculoskeletal conditions
  • Develop ways to measure and evidence successful musculoskeletal services
  • Define the skills needed to provide people with musculoskeletal conditions with the best outcomes
  • Support a culture that shares knowledge, best practice and lessons learnt
  • Drive the national prevention agenda including primary and secondary initiatives
  • Embed a culture of prevention, self-management and resilience in line with the national agenda.

The introduction of FCPs to primary care is an essential part of the national improvements being made to MSK Care Pathways. MSK elective care transformation guidance (2017) recommends:

  • Services should aim to streamline referral pathways to ensure that patients are seen in the ‘right place, by the right person, first time’,
  • Services should focus on patient activation by offering advice and guidance e.g. prevention/ healthy lifestyle programs.
  • Services should focus on patient self-management and access to services via digitalisation.

A fully integrated FCP service should meet all the above recommendations, which is exactly what we provide at Surrey Physio. Patients should be given direct access to specialist care, be given preventative and rehabilitative guidance including lifestyle support, and have the opportunity to self-manage treatment programs using the latest technology.

Musculoskeletal (MSK) complaints make up 30% of all GP visits, and are associated with several comorbidities e.g. diabetes, obesity and depression. The risk of suffering from an MSK condition increases with age and is therefore becoming increasingly problematic as the population rapidly ages.

The number of GPs per 100,000 population is reported to have fallen by 4% in the past two years. Waiting times to see a GP are highest in the poorest areas. Managing the growing burden of MSK disability with diminishing resources involves utilising preventative measures as well as rehabilitating, empowering and educating people to manage pain independently or as part of their community.