What Musculoskeletal (MSK) Conditions are Referred from Routine General Practice (GP) and what Impact does this have on Developing Innovative Care Models for Patients with MSK Conditions in Primary Care?

Neil Heron, Ian Ryans

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The current ethos within the United Kingdom (UK) health system is to encourage community management of health problems, increasing primary care workload. Yet General Practice (GP) is currently in ‘crisis’with significant workload pressures. GP Federations have been developed to allow more collaborative working between GP practices and help develop new innovative models of care to better manage the GP workload pressures. Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions constitute approximately 20% of General Practice(GP) consultations and therefore the Belfast GP Federation aimed to assess the demand for MSK conditions to allow development of new primary care-based treatment pathways for these conditions. The aim of this paper is therefore to assess thedemand for orthopaedic, rheumatology and chronic MSK painful conditions by assessing the referrals from 2 GP practices and the referrals to one orthopaedic Integrated Clinical Assessment and Treatment services (ICATs) clinicfor these conditions and then propose innovative models of care to manage this demand within the community.

Secondary care referral rates for two urban GP surgeries in the Belfast area were assessed in April,2016 to orthopaedics, rheumatology and chronic pain clinics. The referrals to an orthopaedic ICATs clinics, staffedby one GPwSI in MSK, in May 2016 were also reviewed. The orthopaedic ICATs team receive referrals from GPs regarding musculoskeletal conditions and this particular service is based in the Southern Trust area of Northern Ireland.

Overall from the 2 GP surgeries there was 59 orthopaedic referrals, 11 to rheumatology and 3 to the chronic pain clinic. The commonest joint referred to the orthopaedic clinic was knee (15 referrals, 25.4%) and the commonest reason to refer to rheumatology was to exclude an inflammatory arthritis (6 referrals, 54.5%). There wasthen 25 referrals to ICATs, with the commonest reason for referral being neck (6 referrals, 24%) and back (4referrals, 16%). The commonest treatment options employed within the ICAT service included joint injections (8patients, 32%) with referral to in-house physiotherapy (8 patients, 32%).

UK GP is currently under significant workload pressures and musculoskeletal conditions, including orthopaedic, rheumatology and chronic painful conditions, make up a significant proportion of this workload. The main musculoskeletal areas which GPs are referring to secondary care include knee and spinal conditions. To help better manage this workload within primary care we propose developing a new community-based monthly musculoskeletal clinic based within local GP surgeries, supported by a MSK educational programme open to all GPsin the area. Outcomes which will be monitored from this quality improvement work will include secondary care referrals and maintaining high patient satisfaction as well as improving GP confidence in managing MSK conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100375
JournalInternational Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number375
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2016


  • Primary care
  • Musculoskeletal disease
  • Referral patterns
  • Innovation


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