NHS Trusts across the country tend to operate almost autonomously in terms of the specifics of referrals within their hospitals. This is because waiting lists, staffing, and facility availability are all extremely variable across hospitals. There are however standard procedures which are maintained across the country in terms of how referrals are conducted.
GP Referral to a Physiotherapist
The most common way of getting a physio appointment is probably through a GP appointment. General Practitioners are community based doctors who run surgeries that tend to the local population’s basic health needs and concerns. If you have sustained an injury or illness that has affected your movement, a GP will often suggest physiotherapy as a potential option if they think you will benefit from it.
If you agree with your GP and decide to go for physiotherapy, your GP will write to the physio to arrange an appointment. You will then be contacted via mail by the physiotherapy department in the relevant department with an appointment time which you can reschedule if you find it unsuitable.
Some hospitals don’t accept GP referrals however, and the ones that do often have lengthy waiting lists as treatment is offered by appointment based on priority.
Self referral to a Physiotherapist
A practice becoming increasingly popular, self-referral allows a patient with a physical injury to bypass the GP stage by filling out a referral form themselves. This basically makes physiotherapists in the UK almost autonomous practitioners, able to assess and treat you without doctor involvement. Although you will be referred to a consultant if upon assessment your physiotherapist decides that further investigation or alternative treatments are necessary.
The patient self referral form asks a number of questions which are geared towards providing the physiotherapist with as much information as possible to allow them to decide how to prioritise their appointments. It also gives them information that makes the assessment phase easier as they already have some of the patient history they need to hand.
Hospital referral to a Physiotherapist
Inpatients are people who have been admitted and are receiving ongoing hospital based care. While in hospital you will be regularly attended by nurses and doctors who will be responsible for making a referral to the physiotherapy department, and hence an appropriately trained specialist physiotherapist.
Outpatients are referred by consultants from the hospital’s Accident and Emergency department, GPs, or from a self-referral system. Physios tend to have waiting lists and book appointments based on availability and priority. If you have a more severe and debilitating mobility or pain issue, you will be seen far quicker than if you have a sprained little finger for example.
Some hospitals or their departments operate an open referral system, meaning that physiotherapists based within their specific departments and are able to decide for themselves who would most benefit from their care.
Public health care has a particularly bad reputation for waiting lists, and physiotherapy is no exception in this regard. Fortunately there is an alternative for people of the inclination to seek quicker treatment. Many private institutions offer physiotherapy, and the advantages of going private are quicker appointments, better facilities, and a more rigorous recovery regime as there are fewer patients and the limitations of being publically funded and run aren’t there.
To go private, all you have to do is contact a private health care clinic and ask about their system for physio referral. For a regular cost which varies from provider to provider, you will be treated more quickly than within the NHS.
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