I wanted to give you all an update and a little insight on why PBT and other sports therapists in England remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Following our recent two week opening, and then sudden re-closure, I can understand it’s a little confusing, unless you closely follow the politics of private healthcare. And even then, well, let’s just say I’m still a little confused!
In the UK there is currently a distinction between some healthcare providers who have a protected title and are recognised by the government as healthcare providers, and some who don’t and aren’t. Unfortunately at present sports therapy falls into the latter group. Many of my clients mistakenly refer to me as a physio, a colloquialism often adopted in sports scenarios, which you would think does no harm at all. However, say that word in front of a chartered physiotherapist and you risk opening a whole big can of worms. There are many similarities between sports therapists and physiotherapists. Both assess, diagnose and treat musculoskeletal injuries. Both, in the private sector, use hands on techniques such as massage, myofascial work, acupuncture, taping, mobilisation and stretching to relieve pain, inflammation and restore movement. Both recommend exercise plans and work towards full recovery and restoration of activity. However, the fundamental difference is that physiotherapy is an Allied Healthcare Profession, while sports therapy is not. That means that physiotherapists are recognised by the government and the NHS, and all physiotherapists have to be registered and agree to abide by their rules. Sports therapy, on the other hand, is still classified as a complimentary therapy, in the same branch as reflexology, aromatherapy and reiki, for example. And if you think there is no harm in calling a sports therapist “physio”, believe me, I’ve had several emails from disgruntled physiotherapists asking me to correct terminology used on my facebook page by clients, or once a small mistake on the Winners 2000 page.
What seems like an insignificant distinction between two very similar practices is, in reality, huge. And in the case of returning to work during this strange scenario, we are talking about a difference of months, and earnings of thousands of pounds. Chartered physiotherapists in private practice were allowed to reopen their doors as early as the middle of May, and start seeing urgent cases for face to face treatment. Whilst sports therapy practices remain closed, with no expected date of reopening as yet. There have been rumours circulated that the government is expected to make an announcement on the 26th July, but what that announcement will be remains to be seen.
The problem we face at the moment is that, as we do not have a protected title, and we are not seen as healthcare providers, what category do the government put us into? The answer at the moment seems to be either the beauty industry, or, as a complete insult, the sex industry. Yes, that’s right. I am classed the same as a “massage parlour” and apparently all those thousands of pounds and years of my life spent on education and training make me no better than someone who offers a “happy ending” at the end of an oily rub down!
Various governing bodies operate in the UK to try to protect sports therapists, and offer us guidance and guidelines to our scope of practice. I myself am a member of the Sports Therapy Organisation (STO). Many of these governing bodies are, in turn, members of a soft tissue therapy alliance, or umbrella organisation, called the General Council for Soft Tissue Therapies (GCMT). One of the biggest issues with getting our industry recognised as a professional healthcare provider, is that many therapists opt out of membership of any professional body, and similarly many governing bodies refuse to sign up to the GCMT, for reasons unknown, except that they prefer to go it alone. Maybe so they don’t have to adhere to rules put in place for their own and their clients’ protection. Only by speaking with one voice can we hope to get the recognition we deserve. I am proud to be a member of the STO, as they are currently at the forefront of lobbying for recognition. It’s ex-chairman, Richard Johnson is one of the key figures liasing with the GCMT on how we can move forwards and how we can get therapists back to work. Back at the end of May, we thought we had a breakthrough. The GCMT issued guidance that sports therapists had been given the go ahead to return to work, and were finally being seen as an important part of the health service. However, government guidance issued in June regarding close contact services was the first piece of legislation which specifically mentioned sports therapists. Sadly it mentioned us in the context of close contact services who were to remain closed, amongst beauticians, tattooists and massage parlours. Hence the sudden turnaround in PBT shutting it’s doors again.
Thousands of sports therapists across the country have been writing to their MP’s, including myself. Some have received positive responses recognising our contribution to the healthcare sector, and how we save thousands of pounds in precious NHS resources. Other MPs have missed the point entirely and just reiterated the government statements on when the beauty sector can return to work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing the beauty sector at all, I just see myself as something different to that, and so do my clients. A few MPs have been lobbying for female led industries to return to work and are taking more of a feminist standpoint, which of course I wholeheartedly support as a female, self employed worker. But again, they have kind of missed the point, in that the split between males and females working in sports therapy, and the clients using sports therapy services are probably close to 50/50. So again, we don’t fall into that category. In my case, I haven’t received any response at all from either Kevin Foster (Torbay, my home address constituency) or Anthony Mangnall (Totnes, where Winners 2000 is). Incidentally, sports therapists in Wales have now been recognised as healthcare providers and allowed to return to practice. Who would have thought that the Welsh Assembly would be more forward thinking than British parliament? But it just goes to show that the distinction can be made, for the good of everyone. We just need Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock to listen and take note.
So, were does all this leave me, and you, my clients? Well, for now we just have to sit and wait with fingers and toes crossed. I am allowed to offer face to face, socially distanced exercise rehab sessions. And I can provide telephone or online consultations. So if you have an injury, or if you are living with pain and unsure what to do, please still get in touch. As soon as I can open my doors for hands on treatments I am set to let all of my existing clients know by email, so please watch your inboxes, and make sure email@example.com is on your contacts list so it doesn’t get lost as junk. Keep an eye on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/personalbestsportstherapy/ for updates as soon as they happen.