Cover: Economic Evaluation of Patient Direct Access to NHS Physiotherapy Services

Economic Evaluation of Patient Direct Access to NHS Physiotherapy Services

Published in: Physiotherapy, Volume 111, pages 40–47 (June 2021). doi: 10.1016/

Posted on Sep 23, 2022

by Miaoqing Yang, Annette Bishop, Jon Sussex, Martin Roland, Sue Jowett, Ed Wilson


Our aim was to undertake an economic evaluation of patient direct access to physiotherapy in the UK NHS by comparing the number of patients treated, waiting time, cost and health gain from a direct access pathway versus traditional GP-referral to NHS physiotherapy.


The authors used a discrete event simulation (DES) model to represent a hypothetical GP practice of 10,000 patients. Costs were measured from the perspective of the NHS and society. Outcomes were predicted waiting times, the total number of patients with musculoskeletal conditions who received physiotherapy and quality adjusted life years (QALYs) gained, each estimated over a one year period. Model inputs were based on a pilot cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) conducted in four general practices in Cheshire, UK, and other sources from the literature.


Direct access could increase the number of patients receiving at least one physiotherapy appointment by 63%, but without investment in extra physiotherapist capacity would increase waiting time dramatically. The increase in activity is associated with a cost of £4999 per QALY gained.


Direct access to physiotherapy services would be cost-effective and benefit patients given current cost per QALY thresholds used in England. This is because physiotherapy itself is cost-effective, rather than through savings in GP time. Direct access without an increase in supply of physiotherapists would increase waiting times and would be unlikely to be cost saving for the NHS owing to the likely increase in the use of physiotherapy services.

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