New BCA Research: Over half of Brits feel put off from seeing a GP due to NHS waiting lists
To mark Chiropractic Awareness Week 2023 (17-21 April), the BCA undertook UK-wide research, in conjunction with highly regarded market research company, OnePoll, exploring the impact of musculoskeletal (MSK) issues on the UK’s population and its effect on the NHS. The research asked 5000 people if they had experienced MSK issues in the past two years and, if they had, whether they were able to see their GP or sought an alternative route to pain relief and treatment; it also explored how their condition had affected their daily lives.
This new research data shows the impact NHS waiting lists are having on patients with MSK issues. MSK conditions impact joints, bones and muscles, and sometimes associated tissue, such as nerves. According to the NHS, over 20 million people in the UK have an MSK condition, such as arthritis or back pain, and they account for up to 30% of GP consultations in England.
Our findings have reported that 56% of British people feel put off seeing their GP because of NHS waiting list times.
As consequence, 48% of British people are using over the counter (OTC) medication to treat their MSK issues. Whilst OTC medication has its place in helping patients to resume physical activity, these medications are best used in the short term. Along with side effects, they do little to address potential functional issues which have led to the MSK condition*.
The research also found that:
- A third of British people (33%) haven’t seen a GP to treat their MSK issue as they struggled to get an appointment.
- Nearly half of British people (43%) have avoided seeing their GP when dealing with an MSK health issue.
- Over half (53%) of British people are considering turning to private healthcare for MSK to help manage pain.
- 38% of British people thought their MSK issue would go away on its own, without seeing a GP.
- Over half (52%) of British people have lived with an MSK issue for longer than 12-months.
Chiropractors can provide those suffering with MSK conditions an alternative solution, giving patients choice when faced with long waiting lists. They offer patients a wide-ranging package of care which is patient-centred, supported by evidence and results in great patient reported outcomes. More people are turning to chiropractors to manage poor mobility, pain and wider health concerns arising from MSK issues before they worsen.
Following the findings, the BCA is showcasing how Chiropractors are an integral part of UK healthcare, supporting the NHS as part of an integrated system. By giving patients proactive options and choice, chiropractors are well placed to help relieve the strain on the NHS. The BCA is championing greater patient choice, improving patient experience, and avoiding MSK issues developing into chronic conditions due to a lack of physical activity and further impacting the NHS later down the line.
What patients have shared with us
Ian Palmer, 52 from Wiltshire, started feeling discomfort in early January 2023, which quickly developed into severe pain in his neck, shoulder and arm, leaving him unable to carry out any normal function, continue to work and turned any hope of sleep into a nightmare. Exhausted and in pain, Ian’s mental health declined. Ian turned to his GP, but was not able to be seen for almost four weeks, with even longer waiting times for an MRI scan.
Eager to decrease the level of pain he was experiencing whilst waiting for further assessment through the NHS, Ian sought out local Chiropractor and BCA member, Philippa Oakley. Working with Ian to understand his issue, Philippa developed a personalised treatment plan which included twice weekly sessions and an exercise routine which have not only helped Ian physically, but also mentally. Philippa was also able to write to Ian’s GP, organise a private MRI scan and send this on to the orthopaedic specialist at his local hospital, whilst offering an immediate solution to manage his symptoms.
Speaking about his experience, Ian said “Philippa has been so supportive and helpful to both myself and my wife, helping me with hands on treatment to relieve my symptoms.”
Speaking about the recent research findings, President of the British Chiropractic Association, Catherine Quinn, said: “Our research findings show the critical effect that NHS waiting lists are having on the health of those suffering with MSK issues. It is concerning to see the number of British people that are suffering in silence and living with these MSK issues for over a year. It is inevitable that these patients will have seen their ability to stay physically active negatively impacted, which is likely to be detrimental to their wider health and well-being. The NHS states that it is committed to working with the private sector to provide and deliver improvements in health and wellbeing, and with resources under ever increasing pressure, chiropractors form an important part of this delivery. Research suggests that when experiencing an MSK condition, being seen and given the right advice quickly can significantly reduce negative impacts to the patient’s life.
A patient’s initial appointment should, ideally, occur within 14 days from the onset of symptoms, as studies show this can reduce the likelihood of a patient requiring surgery or spinal injections and can lead to fewer treatment visits. Chiropractors are well placed to provide patients with care supported by current evidence-based guidelines, including face to face, hands on care, gentle physical activity, as well as patient education and reassurance.”
Cait Allen, Chief Executive Officer at The British Chiropractic Association, added: “These findings identify how there is a significant opportunity for more patients to consider chiropractic as a credible option. Chiropractors, like doctors and dentists, are regulated healthcare professionals and patients can feel confident that this protected title guarantees high standards of education and continued professional development. We’re seeing more people turn to the private sector to alleviate pressures on NHS primary care services. Ultimately, the private sector has an important role to play in providing patients with this choice, particularly when the NHS is suffering with extended GP waiting lists.
Chiropractors are well established in their local communities as part of the regulated healthcare team, and it is encouraging to see an increasing number of GPs and FCPs suggesting that patients seek care privately for these common MSK complaints. There is more that can be done though to raise further awareness and confidence in the option for patients to see a Chiropractor or other healthcare provider privately.
NHS England has found over 30 million working days are lost due to MSK conditions every year in the UK. Integrated healthcare is essential to ensure more people receive treatment, and both the economy and NHS are better supported.”
*Buchbinder R, Underwood M, Hartvigsen J, Maher CG. The Lancet Series call to action to reduce low value care for low back pain: an update. Pain. 2020 Sep;161 Suppl 1(1):S57-S64. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001869. PMID: 33090740; PMCID: PMC7434211 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7434211/
About the British Chiropractic Association:
The BCA is the largest and longest-standing association for chiropractors in the UK and has been named ‘Best Professional Body of the Year’ at the Memcom Excellence Awards 2022 for its Repositioning Project which has played a pivotal role in changing the healthcare landscape for the better. As well as promoting international standards of education and exemplary conduct, the BCA supports chiropractors to progress and develop to fulfil their professional ambitions with honour and integrity, at every step. The BCA is raising awareness about the rigour, relevance and evidence driving the profession and the association’s ambition for chiropractic to be more closely embedded within mainstream healthcare.
The BCA is the home for chiropractors who provide patient-centred, evidence-based care and offer full transparency to their patients. Through the Patient Charter BCA chiropractors provide reassurance to their patients and that they will empower them to make an informed decision about their treatment.