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Sports medicine clinics on the NHS: a patient survey
  1. S H Boyce,
  2. M A Quigley
  1. 176 Troon Avenue, Greenhills East Kilbride G75 8TJ, Scotland, UK

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    Editor,—Following the recent success of the British team at the Sydney Olympics, media and medical attention appears to be preoccupied with the health and welfare of the “elite athlete”. However, the overwhelming majority of people who participate in sport in this country are not at an elite level. In fact, the term “athlete” may not even be correct. Many people participate in sport for the physical benefits of exercise and the personal enjoyment that it brings.

    When these people are acutely injured, their first port of call is their GP or local A&E department. If physiotherapy is required, there is often a lengthy waiting period. For chronic or overuse injuries, the GP may not have the time, inclination, or qualifications to deal competently with their management. If the opinion of an orthopaedic consultant is desired, six months or more may elapse before an appointment. Further time will be lost in waiting for investigations and/or surgery. For the “ordinary” sportsperson, over a year may pass before they can return to their sport for an injury that may be resolved in one to two months for an “elite athlete”. Of course, if a local privately run sports medicine clinic exists, specialist input and quicker treatment can be offered, bypassing the NHS waiting lists. But this costs money and not everyone can afford to pay for healthcare.

    We randomly selected 40 people who attended the A&E department with a sports injury and were discharged to the care of their GP for follow up. A questionnaire was sent to each patient asking them “if a specialised sports medicine clinic was present at the hospital would you have preferred your injury to have received further treatment at this clinic rather than your local GP practice?”. A response rate of 47.5% was obtained; 89% would have preferred their injury to be reviewed at a sports medicine clinic. Various reasons were given for this preference, with many feeling that their GP was not interested or did not have the time to deal with their problem correctly. Most also felt that at a sports medicine clinic they would be treated by specialists in their field similar to that of any other hospital specialty outpatient clinic.

    Although this survey targeted a possibly biased group, these are the majority of people with sporting injuries that we should be aiming to treat. The introduction of NHS based sports medicine clinics may be a few years away but the training of doctors to a specialist standard through regulated training schemes must start now.

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