Patients needing to access NHS physiotherapy services are facing waits of up to 27 weeks, according to a new report.
Primary care trusts have cut their physiotherapy budgets and patients are seeing their condition worsen while they wait, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy warned.
The CSP said the cuts would lead to patients being readmitted to hospitals and higher costs for the NHS and social care in the long-term.
Evidence shows that early access to physiotherapy services is cost effective and offers clinical benefits to patients such as stroke survivors and those with musculoskeletal disorders of the back, neck and joints.
The audit of 115 PCTs in England using the Freedom of Information Act found “significant variations in how physiotherapy services are commissioned and funded”.
West Sussex PCT provided information saying waiting times varied from four to 27 weeks, with the average being 11.8 weeks.
But in South Tyneside and Gateshead, patients were assessed by a physiotherapist within two working days of referral and had their first appointment within a maximum of 15 working days.
The report also surveyed over 200 physiotherapy managers and found that more than half (57 per cent) were reporting cuts to patient services.
Nearly 60 per cent said these cuts had, or would, reduce the number of treatment sessions a patient could have, while one in four said patient safety was being compromised by the cuts.
Some 70 per cent of managers who reported safety concerns had also seen cuts in specialist physio posts and “down-banding” of jobs, where less experienced staff filled jobs once reserved for somebody more senior.
Overall, one in four PCTs (26 per cent) had undertaken an assessment of the provision of physiotherapy services in their area, the report found.
Phil Gray, chief executive of the CSP, said: “This report paints a disturbing picture of what is happening right now to NHS physiotherapy services across the country.
“Patients are waiting longer to get the physiotherapy treatment they need, which increases the risk that their condition will worsen.
“When faced with this enormous challenge, it is hard to believe that the government still wants to impose the destabilisation, massive upheaval and huge extra cost of its proposed NHS reforms.
“Short-term, financially-driven cuts to physiotherapy services make no sense when physios can reduce long-term NHS and welfare costs by helping people get well and keeping them in work.”