North East Ambulance Service reduces absence with physiotherapy scheme

North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) has reduced its long-term sickness absence since it rolled out a physiotherapy scheme for staff.

Because musculoskeletal disorders are an occupational hazard for ambulance staff, NEAS investigated the options available to minimise the impact of these injuries.

The organisation launched a pilot scheme with physiotherapy provider Physio Med in May 2011. The service provides the 500 patient transport service staff with access to physiotherapists to facilitate a quicker return to work after injury.

The majority of the referred employees received an appointment within 24 hours and, in the past seven months, NEAS has seen a significant reduction in long-term sickness absence, saving potentially hundreds of lost working days.

The majority (83%) of employees who were off sick at the point of referral have returned to work.

Elma Alexander, head of HR at NEAS, said: “Our operational staff do a very physically demanding job and, as a result, we have a high level of reported musculoskeletal injuries causing staff to be absent from work.

“The demand meant that employees were waiting for up to three weeks for an appointment with our in-house physiotherapist, which clearly impacted on our service.

“Working with Physio Med gave our employees much faster access to physiotherapy treatment, which in turn has seen us vastly improve our levels of long-term sickness absence.

“As well as helping our employees recover more quickly and safely from these injuries and conditions, we hope it will also help us make longer-term cost savings.”

Mark Fletcher, clinical director at Physio Med, added: “Medical evidence shows that physiotherapy is the most effective intervention in the first eight weeks of a musculoskeletal injury.

“By ensuring that NEAS employees receive treatment as quickly as possible we can help to reduce employee discomfort and pain levels, facilitate an early return to work and, just as importantly, reduce the risk of further absence due to recurrence of musculoskeletal disorder.”

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