• Physiotherapy chiefs warn “tidal-wave” of rehab needed due to coronavirus
  • Unions calls for staffing levels to be protected
  • NHS Employers says there is lack of clarity over visa extension scheme

Ministers must expand the automatic visa extension scheme to include physiotherapists with the NHS facing a “tidal wave” of rehabilitation work because of the covid-19 crisis, MPs and unions have warned.

The call follows the government last month announcing a one-year visa extension for doctors, nurses and paramedics. But it did not include physiotherapists and other allied health professionals and their families.

Holly Lynch, Labour MP for Halifax, said the government’s decision to extend visas would not apply to all working in the NHS, including “specialist respiratory physiotherapists working with covid-19 patients every day”.

“Fourteen per cent of physiotherapists are believed to be from overseas and are working on the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus from intensive care to community rehabilitation after discharge,” Ms Lynch said.

“The government needs to work much harder to show those working on the frontline in the fight against the coronavirus just how invaluable they are, with automatic visa extensions of one year for all those across health and social care,” she added.

Ms Lynch’s intervention follows the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy writing to MPs last week.

Karen Middleton, chief executive at the CSP, said: “In the coming weeks and months, as the country emerges from this crisis, there will be a ‘tidal wave’ of rehabilitation need.

“Community-based rehab will need to be at the core of the UK’s health and social care strategy – and the work of physiotherapists and physiotherapy support workers will be vital. This is why we’ve been lobbying the government to highlight the importance of physiotherapy and rehab, both during and after the covid-19 pandemic.”

A CSP spokeswoman added the trade union hoped the Home Office would act quickly to change the scheme.

She added: “We need to protect staffing levels at this critical time before we see unprecedented demand for our services.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers told HSJ: ‘‘We very much welcomed the rapid action by the Home Office in the early days of the outbreak to support the staffing capacity of the NHS, particularly for nurses, doctors and paramedics.”

“The lack of clarity regarding visa extensions for other staff groups is a matter of some understandable anxiety for those colleagues and we have asked government for further action to be taken.”

According to CSP, there are an estimated 3,000 physiotherapists working in the UK who qualified overseas, though not all will be affected by this visa.

The Home Office had not responded to an invitation for comment at the time of publication.