People power saves Northumberland physiotherapy services as health chiefs offer reprieve

People power has saved physiotherapy services for people in small rural communities in Northumberland after health chiefs bowed to public pressure.

NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) announced in June 2019 that the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust had been awarded the contract to provide a new musculoskeletal (MSK) and pain service in partnership with Connect Health.

The term MSK includes well over 200 disorders affecting joints, bones, muscles and soft tissues, which are the most common reason for repeat appointments with a GP, comprising up to 30% of primary care consultations nationally.

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The CCG said the new Joint Musculoskeletal and Pain Service (JMAPS) will improve access for patients, providing them with care which best suits them.

But there were concerns that the service was being reduced and would only operate from seven centres around the county – Alnwick, Berwick, Blyth, Hexham, Morpeth, Rothbury and Wansbeck General Hospital.

A petition organised by Glendale Patient Practice Group in Wooler attracted more than 200 signatures in just two days.

But at its annual public meeting on June 26, the CCG revealed the JMAPS will now operate from a range of other sites as well, albeit the majority of them for fewer hours per week than before – Amble, Seahouses, Wooler, Ponteland, Prudhoe, Allendale, Bellingham and Haltwhistle.

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The new contract is due to start on July 1, but it may be that the additional sites will not be up and running again until August.

Siobhan Brown, the CCG’s chief operating officer, said the service will be in place by August 5 with as few gaps as possible, and the body will be monitoring the new service closely.

She said the new contract aimed to provide the best model of care, ensuring all areas have access to a consistent service, and was not a cost-cutting measure – despite the the overall budget being reduced.

Rosanna Reed, from the PPG in Wooler, said she was ‘grateful’ and ‘delighted’ that the CCG had listened.

But Coun Steven Bridgett, who represents Rothbury, called for the changes to be considered by the county council’s health and wellbeing committee, fearing they will impact on rural areas.