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Celebrating podiatry's role in primary care

Celebrating podiatry’s role in primary care

Consultation
Podiatrists are ideally placed to treat patients in a primary care setting


As we’ve mentioned in our regular bulletins to members, one of our focuses for this year’s Foot Health Month is primary care. It is an area we’re keen to address for a number of reasons.

For a long time we’ve been advocating for better understanding and representation of podiatrists in their contribution to primary care. Our primary care policy position, developed by the policy team at the College, leads the way in this.

Recently, the new NHS long-term plan has identified preventing and managing conditions such as diabetes and musculoskeletal as critical to the future of care. It is clear that podiatrists have an important role to play in supporting this.

This assertion is backed up by new research led by Professor Catherine Bowen, which looks at the cost-effectiveness of podiatry. As we highlighted in an article in Podiatry Now in December 2018, part of the research looked at GP encounters for foot problems. It found that over a four-year period, 3% of all interactions with GPs were for foot pain. This may not sound like much, but that’s a huge amount of work that could be better managed by our profession – freeing up time for GPs to do the many other things they need to do. They are a massively overworked profession and we are in an ideal position to support them in a primary care setting.

As part of our Foot Health month campaign this year, we ran a survey about people’s foot wear buying habits. One of the questions we asked was how many people had experienced foot pain – unsurprisingly it was high (about half). We then asked where people went to find support. About a quarter went to see their podiatrist – but twice as many chose to see their GP. So, there is still a long way to go in shifting public perception and ensuring access to services. But what are the issues we need to overcome?

Firstly, public awareness. Last year when we ran a similar survey, we found that people were less aware of high street podiatrists than other high street health practitioners (such as opticians, pharmacists, etc). And this is what Foot Health month is all about – podiatrists getting out and about, meeting the public, and reminding them that we are here to support them. And this year we are promoting podiatry even more widely – with information in GP practices targeting patients, so that next time they have a problem with their feet, we are at the forefront of their minds as the people to go to.

Another consideration is how prominent podiatry is among other health professionals. Our profession has been affected negatively by changes to NHS services. And some private practitioners have reported to us that GPs don’t always understand what they do. Even though we have seen some excellent examples of GPs and podiatrists working brilliantly together, this needs to be addressed.

It’s a theme that came up in the members’ survey we ran at the end of last year (of which full details will be published soon). As the national professional body, it’s our job to address this on behalf of all podiatrists, so we’re doing some outreach and promotional work at the professional level, in parallel to the brilliant work our members are doing promoting podiatry to the public. This includes an article published this month in the Journal of General Practice Nursing, from our Head of Policy, Lawrence Ambrose, and Head of Education, James Coughtrey, which sets out the case for greater involvement of podiatrists in primary care. The journal reaches around 12,000 nurses working in GP surgeries throughout the UK. Its editor has kindly allowed us to reproduce the article on our website so that members can read it too. Read it here. We continue, of course, to represent podiatrists at the highest levels within the NHS and amongst fellow AHPs and other healthcare professionals.

While we’re reflecting on our role in the wider health service as part of this year’s Foot Health month, much of the work of promoting podiatry among other professions is ongoing activity for us at the College. Often it takes place behind the scenes, so members may not be aware of it, but it is making a difference for our profession. This Foot Health month, we’re taking the opportunity to bring it into the spotlight, as we advocate for what podiatry can do for primary care, and the difference it can make to patients.