Musculoskeletal (MSK) and Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) in General Practice (GP): A Novel GP-based clinic

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The problem

- Musculoskeletal (MSK) symptoms are common within primary care but some GPs are not comfortable managing these; waiting times for hospital appointments are a major cause of patients’ complaints. Current UK healthcare policies emphasise a need for more community-based management. We aimed to pilot an innovative general practice-based clinic to improve the management of MSK and Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) symptoms within general practice.

The approach

- This project was conducted in an inner-city practice of approximately 9,000 patients and 5 GP partners. The practice commissioned a novel monthly 4-hour clinic staffed by one GP with a specialist interest in MSK and SEM conditions. Each patient was allocated a 20-minute appointment. All primary care staff within the practice could refer any patient for whom they considered hospital referral appropriate, with no specific exclusion criteria. Management plans included injection therapy, exercise prescription and onward referral. After three months (August-October 2014) numbers of consultations, sources of referral, reasons for referral and management outcomes were described; patient satisfaction was assessed by questionnaire, offered to 10 randomly selected patients by reception staff and self-completed by patients. Costs of the clinic were compared to current options.


- All patients (14 males; 21 females; aged 35-77 years), were seen within four weeks of referral (one third of orthopaedic referrals in 2013 waited over 9 weeks for appointment). Most were referred from other GPs; some came from physiotherapy and podiatry. Shoulder problems were the most frequent reason for referral. The commonest management option was steroid injection, with most patients being given advice regarding exercise and analgesia; there were 3 onward referrals (2 physiotherapy; 1 rheumatology).Comparing August-October data in 2014 and 2013, total, orthopaedic and rheumatology referrals were reduced by 147, 2 and 3, respectively; within the practice MSK presentations and physiotherapy and x-ray referrals were 60, 47 and 90 fewer, respectively.The cost per attendance at the clinic was £61; initial orthopaedic-ICAT assessments cost £82 and a consultant appointment £213.Satisfaction questionnaires were returned by all 10 selected participants and provided positive feedback, expressing preference for community-based, rather than hospital, management.Consequence- Our pilot study indicates that this novel service model has potential for efficient and effective management of MSK and SEM complaints in primary care, reducing the need for hospital referral and the clinical burden on general practices. The innovation deserves further evaluation in a full-scale trial to determine its generalisability to other practice settings and populations.


  • Neil Heron
  • Nigel Hart
  • Margaret Cupples