There are huge variations nationally in NHS-provided services to treat two of the leading causes of sickness absence, figures obtained by Health Insurance have revealed.
A three month investigation into waiting times for the treatment of musculoskeletal and mental health conditions shows that in some parts of the country individuals have to wait many weeks for treatment, despite evidence that early intervention is crucial to a successful recovery.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request carried out by Health Insurance shows that patients with musculoskeletal problems are waiting over six weeks for physiotherapy in more than half of England’s primary care trusts, despite evidence that the propensity for back pain patients to return to work falls rapidly after four to six weeks. FOI requests responded to by 123 out of 152 PCTs uncovered that nine have waits of over 18 weeks for physiotherapy to treat back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions. Over a quarter (36) reported waits of over three months. The survey highlights the extent of variation in the provision of services across the country, with over 40% (54) of PCTs offering physiotherapy in less than six weeks and five reporting waits of less than two weeks.
Meanwhile, as reported in last month’s magazine, people affected by mental health problems can face waits of over six months for treatment on the NHS. Of the 90 PCTs who supplied data to a FOI request on the issue, 12 reported waits of over six months for counselling for patients suffering from mild to moderate depression. One reported a wait of over a year and almost a third (29) listed a wait of over three months. Over a quarter (25) of the 85 PCTs who responded to a question about waiting times for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) reported that patients waited over three months, with one listing a waiting time of three years.
According to research carried out by the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development, employers rate acute medical conditions, back pain, musculoskeletal conditions and stress as the top four causes of long-term absence among manual employees. Mental ill health and non- work-related injuries and accidents are also cited as significant causes of long-term absence for manual staff. Stress is the number one cause of long-term absence among non-manual employees, followed by acute medical conditions, mental ill health, such as clinical depression and anxiety, and musculoskeletal conditions. Back pain and recurring medical conditions are also commonly cited as major causes of long-term absence among non-manual employees.
Experts say that early intervention to treat both mental health and musculoskeletal conditions is key to maximising the likelihood of an individual’s safe and speedy return to being fit for work.
The Department of Health said that it is investing in both areas to improve access in all parts of the country in the future.