Transforming rehabilitation services in England: A new model for community rehab


By Sara Hazzard, Assistant Director Strategic Communications at The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and Co-Chair Community Rehabilitation Alliance

Change is in the air when it comes to rehabilitation in NHS England.

And while the word ‘change’ may send shivers up the spines of many, the change that is underway in the rehab space must be seen as positive, if we are to safeguard the future of the service for current and future generations.

At the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, we have long been calling for change and transformation when it comes to rehabilitation. Our Right To Rehab campaigning has made significant progress in pushing this issue up the agenda. And we are not alone. As part of the Community Rehabilitation Alliance (CRA), which we are proud to convene and co-chair, 60 health and care charities and professional bodies are also united in seeing rehabilitation become a central part of NHS thinking and future planning.

So, what does the most recent change, when it comes to rehab, mean?

For the answer, we need to look at two landmark publications from NHS England: the Integrated Care Framework and a new model for community rehabilitation.

Issued in September this year, this framework and model, read together, signal a step-change in the way community rehabilitation is regarded at a system-level within the NHS. While rehab has been steadily growing in prominence over the last few years, to have tangible, clear policy setting out the expectations for what good rehab looks like is a seminal moment.

What is hugely encouraging is that the ICF and new model for rehabilitation reflect strongly the rehab best practice standards, which were developed and endorsed by the CRA. This again shows that there are many voices all calling for the same thing, and for everyone’s right to rehabilitation to be realised.

Significant, too, is that before looking at the detail of the ICF and new rehab model, their very existence is an acknowledgement from the top of the service in England that rehabilitation must be taken seriously and delivered comprehensively to improve patient and population health outcomes. It is a pillar of health care as important as medicines and surgery.

The evidence for needing this shift is clear to see.

Stroke rehabilitation for example, delivered at the optimum time, reduces the risk of a further stroke by 35 per cent. It enables people to regain function and independence yet only 32 per cent get the recommended amount of rehab.

Updated guidance from NICE in October 2023 (the month of this publication) has further bolstered the importance of rehab, by advising that the level of rehab offered is increased to at least three hours a day at least five days a week. This is significant because NICE are guided by effectiveness and cost.

Roughly one in four emergency hospital admissions and ambulance call outs are due to a fall.

Falls prevention saves the NHS £3.26 for every £1 invested because it reduces admissions and bed days. Preventive rehab such as Fracture Liaison Services (FLS) are therefore a cost-effective intervention.

COPD exacerbations are the 2nd largest cause of emergency hospital admissions. Rehab is vital and can reduce admissions by 14 per cent and hospital bed days by 50 per cent yet less than 40 per cent of eligible people are offered rehab.

It is the same with cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. Only 50 per cent of eligible patients receive cardiac rehab. There would be 50,000 fewer hospital admissions if access was 85 per cent.

The release of the ICF and new model for community rehabilitation could therefore not come soon enough.

But with publication, all efforts must now ensure that the actions set out in them, including an adequate rehab workforce, are delivered at pace. We need roles created in the community. It is where people need the help and support. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy stands ready, alongside our partners in the Community Rehabilitation Alliance, to work with the NHS to make this happen.

The good news is that maximising the rehabilitation workforce is a key feature of the ICF and rehab model, as it highlights AHP leadership at system level to lead implementation. This focus to make the best use of the workforce ensures that individual expertise is used to best effect and has a potential valuable knock-on impact when it comes to the progression and retention of staff.

Also of key importance is the use of data to make the best decisions about service delivery. While there is some data available, much of it is condition specific and/or held in just one place. Now work must develop to ensure that information is shared, and silos broken down.

We must at minimum collect information to identify who needs rehab, who gets rehab and the outcomes.

We therefore have an opportunity, with the momentum and appetite for rehabilitation firmly behind us from the top of the NHS. We must not waste this moment and instead work together, understand what this new approach to rehab means for us in practical terms and then forge a way forward. We owe this effort to the more than one million people waiting for NHS community services, of which rehabilitation makes up a large part.