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Better orthotic services thanks to one courageous mother


Today’s announcement by NHS England of a drive to improve orthotic services will come as welcome news to patients who depend upon services to help improve their mobility, independence and help with pain relief.

The publication of ‘Improving the Quality of Orthotics Services in England’ is, in part, due to action by one courageous mother who pursued her case with Healthwatch Staffordshire.

The new guidelines aim to help local commissioners to improve provision of local orthotic services and give patients better quality and consistency from their care.

One young boy’s story

Rebecca’s son has required orthotic care since he could stand.

When he was nine, his orthopaedic surgeon recommended serial casting to set his foot straight. He should have had an ankle foot orthosis to wear immediately afterwards to keep his foot and ankle straight.

However, it took 17 weeks and within days he had lost all his mobility, and later had to undergo complex surgery.

The personal cost to Rebecca’s son was severe. The delays also generated significant and unnecessary costs to the NHS.

Shining a spotlight

Healthwatch Staffordshire, working with Rebecca who has gathered similar patient stories, told us about the significant effect that a lack of access to these vital services can have.

After checking with other local Healthwatch, we uncovered more stories that indicated significant variations in the quality of services and waiting times to access them.

Not only was there a clear human impact. The social and economic consequences of denying patients timely orthotic care are significant - costing the NHS an estimated £390 million per annum.

After we highlighted our concerns with NHS England, they commissioned a review of the data on the quality of orthotics services. NHS England also brought together professionals to explore how the quality of orthotics services in England should be improved.

As a result of this review, today NHS England are launching their new guidelines and resources, in order for local commissioners to improve provision of local orthotic services and give patients better quality and consistency from their care.

Towards better services

The new guidance sets out 10 recommended steps for commissioners to take towards better services for patients, including:

  • Better understanding the needs of patients
  • Delivering services in the community rather than out of hospitals, and
  • Encouraging better working between health professionals to avoid unnecessary duplication

In response to the report, our Chair, Anna Bradley said:

“This approach could improve orthotics care for thousands and save the health service millions.

“It really shows what is possible when the system listens to patients and redesigns services around their needs – people get the care they deserve and the NHS makes much needed savings.”

Read how we have been making positive changes to health and social care this year

Read NHS England's new guidance 'Improving the Quality of Orthotics Services in England