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The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) is warning that patients in Scotland are missing out on essential physiotherapy and rehabilitation services because spaces are being de-prioritised by Scottish health boards.

Reports from across Scotland reveal that rehabilitation facilities are being used for storage space and meeting rooms while the pace of reopening and restarting services remains slow.

During this second wave of the pandemic, physiotherapy will be critical to COVID-19 rehabilitation, CSP emphasises.

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Echoing this point, in July 2020, the NHS launched a new on-demand recovery service called Your COVID Recovery. The service forms part of NHS plans to expand access to COVID-19 rehabilitation treatments for those who have survived the virus but still have problems with breathing, mental health problems or other complications.

CSP adds that physiotherapists assist Covid and ‘Long Covid’ patients recovering from fatigue, ongoing respiratory problems, deconditioning and poor mental health. However, the closure of rehabilitation services means that many non-Covid patients with long-term conditions have deteriorated and now require more rehabilitation, alongside the ongoing needs of cardiac, stroke and respiratory referrals in the community, the society notes.

Despite this huge need, the society says rehabilitation spaces in various health boards are being moved out without relocation plans and gymnasiums are being requisitioned for other purposes such as storage and meeting rooms.

Kenryck Lloyd-Jones, CSP Public Affairs and Policy Manager for Scotland, said: “The reports we are receiving from across Scotland are deeply concerning. It seems that not only are physiotherapy and rehabilitation services being slow to restart, they are being moved without relocation plans, downgraded or undervalued. We recognise the challenges in health settings and the need to re-organise, but it is essential that rehabilitation services are prioritised.

“Changes require proper consultation, risk assessment and planning. It is critical that the rehabilitation needs of people are not forgotten.”

According to a recent CSP survey, nearly half of the members in Scotland reported that a loss of rehabilitation spaces has prevented vital services from resuming. Additionally, the society says that relocation and redesign are taking place without risk assessments, with poor planning and a lack of consultation.

A number of patient groups are also warning of a lack of investment and undervaluing of rehabilitation. While some rehabilitation is taking place virtually, physiotherapists still need enough space and equipment to run sessions effectively, the society underlines.

CSP wrote to all regional health boards last month to urge them to prioritise rehabilitation as services are restarted, stating: “The CSP is strongly advising action to address this lag in progress, not least because the post-Covid rehabilitation needs of Scotland’s communities are pressing. Local authorities and Integrated Joint Boards also need to ensure that where rehabilitation is required in community settings, that health professionals can resume services.

“With the publication of the Scottish government’s rehabilitation framework, the emphasis must return to early intervention, reducing hospital admission, early supported discharge and improved outcomes. Musculoskeletal and community rehabilitation services are essential to this.”

According to the society, there are multiple examples of services losing space and being downgraded, including NHS Fife, where gymnasium space used for storage space with no plans to return it, while physiotherapists attempt to offer rehabilitation in inadequate shared spaces with under-staffed provision.

Furthermore, CSP says that in NHS Lothian, a rehabilitation ward has been lost and the gymnasium is now used for storage, leaving the remaining rehabilitation areas on wards inaccurate.

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