To practise as a Physiotherapist, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). To register with the HCPC, you first need to successfully complete a degree in physiotherapy approved by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and you may be able to do a 2-year postgraduate course if you’ve got a degree in a relevant subject, such as biological science, psychology or sports science.
A First Contact Physiotherapist (FCP) is a newly developed and aspirational Allied Health Professional (AHP) role in primary care. To work independently in this role you will be required to have a gained a high level (level 7) of clinical expertise in a core AHP field such as Musculoskeletal (MSK) medicine or Respiratory medicine. You will also have enhanced your wider clinical knowledge and skills and be working at or towards Advanced practitioner level. This will have been supported by a portfolio or academic qualification showing many clinical competencies.
First Contact Physiotherapy is an increasingly established model of care designed to deliver a streamlined, patient-centred service and support the growing demands on general practice and secondary care.
There are plans that supervised student and postgraduate roles in First Contact Physiotherapy practice will become increasingly popular and this will give Allied Health Professional clinicians new opportunities to become an integral part of primary care delivery at different points in their career.
The Health Education England video below demonstrates the efficacy of First Contact Physiotherapy in Musculoskeletal services both in quality of outcomes as well as efficiency – people see the right person, in the right place, first time.
As a Physiotherapist in primary care you are likley to treat many types of conditions including:
- neurological conditions, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease
- neuromusculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain, whiplash associated disorder, sports injuries and arthritis
- cardiovascular conditions, such as chronic heart disease and rehabilitation after heart attack
- respiratory conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis
Once a patient’s movement problem has been diagnosed a Physiotherapist works with the patient to decide how to treat it. This could include massage, therapeutic exercise and ultrasound therapy.
Examples of the day-to-day tasks that a Physiotherapist does include:
- helping patients with spine and joint problems
- helping patients recover from accidents, sports injuries and strokes
- working with children who have mental or physical disabilities
- helping older people with physical problems become more mobile
To get onto a physiotherapy degree course you usually need two or three A levels, including a biological science and/or PE, along with five GCSEs (grades A-C), including English language, maths and at least one science.
You may also be able to get onto a course with alternative qualifications, including:
- BTEC, HND or HNC which includes biological science
- relevant NVQ
- science-based access course
- a previous degree or a full practising qualification in a related area
Use the Health Education England course finder to find Physiotherapy degrees in the North West of England.
Practice based learning is central to undergraduate physiotherapy programmes. Students often spend a minimum of 1,000 hours in supervised clinical practice during the lifetime of their programme of study. Physiotherapy students now have the opportunity to gain experience in GP practices via undergraduate placements.
You will need the following skills and knowledge
- knowledge of medicine and dentistry
- sensitivity and understanding
- to enjoy working with other people
- customer service skills
- patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
- analytical thinking skills
- knowledge of psychology
- to be flexible and open to change
- to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently
Once qualified, you can join the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. You’ll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with continuing professional development (CPD).
You may choose to specialise in a particular area of practice such as sports injuries, critical care, care of the elderly or working with children or cancer patients. Teaching and research are also options.
You could also move into management, either within physiotherapy services or general management. As head of a local physiotherapy service you would be responsible both for a team of staff and for managing a budget.
Some physiotherapists set up their own clinics, on their own or with other professionals.
There may be opportunities to work overseas.
The introduction of specialist musculoskeletal clinics has led to a fragmentation of knowledge and skills, as many experienced staff are no longer based in ‘core’ physiotherapy services. This has resulted in a dispersion of the knowledge and skill base across each site and service. As an unintended consequence, physiotherapy staff working within these services often feel it is harder to access peer support. This peer support is vital in helping physiotherapists synthesise their learning, critically reflect, and then apply their learning to practice.
A national multi-professional network for Musculoskeletal First Contact Physiotherapy jointly funded with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP) has been established and already has over 1000 multi-professional members. The network is open to all professions, as well as all interested parties, including commissioners, GP staff and researchers. Join the First Contact Physiotherapy (FCP) network (Chartered Society of Physiotherapists members only and invited guests). If you are not a member please contact the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Musculoskeletal core capabilities framework for first contact practitioners sets the minimum standard for professionals working in these roles, as not all First Contact Physiotherapy roles are advanced clinical practice level. The framework is now in use to support the development of a skilled and well-integrated multidisciplinary workforce.