NHS Scotland
NHS Scotland

People living with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are missing out on the treatment they need, says Scottish Labour, as new figures show a sharp drop in referrals over the past year.

Public Health Scotland statistics released today showed that for the quarter ending December 2020, referrals dropped by a third compared to the same time last year, with 66,535 referrals for a first outpatient appointment at an Allied Health Profession-led MSK service. This was 36.8% fewer referrals than received during the same quarter in the previous year.

The figures exclude self-referrals which were suspended in March 2020 and have not restarted. Some health boards have reported an increase in the proportion of referrals from primary care as a result of the Musculoskeletal advice and Triage service (MATS) helpline suspension. As well as people missing out now, Scottish Labour has said that as referrals resume the treatment backlog will likely increase, leaving thousands in pain for longer as they await appointments.

MSK conditions, which include recurrent pain, swelling and aches in joints, are common and affect a wide range of people, often requiring pain medication, physical therapy or occupational therapy.

Commenting, Scottish Labour deputy leader and health and social care spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “Musculoskeletal conditions leave thousands of people in crippling pain and misery, and can strike at any time. These staggering figures show the extent of the health problems we are storing up and how far people are likely to have to wait for treatment.

“As restrictions are lifted, we need to have a fully-operational NHS that can cope with the surge in demand, and ensure we can provide equipment and therapy for those struggling to move and manage day-to-day tasks.

“Too many people have been living with pain this last year, pushed to the back of the queue, but they must not be forgotten in the rush to restart services. We need an NHS that can respond to all health conditions and begin the task of helping our communities recover.”


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