A NEW physiotherapy service, which has seen the NHS teaming up with a private company, has received a backlash amid claims it has offered a reduced service and left existing patients waiting weeks for appointments.

Last month NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) announced that Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust had been awarded the contract to provide a new musculoskeletal and pain service in partnership with private firm Connect Health.

Initially, concerns were raised that the service was being reduced and would only operate from seven centres around the county – with Hexham being the only one in Tynedale. This meant outreach services at sites including Allendale, Bellingham, Haltwhistle, Ponteland, Prudhoe were to be cut.

But after public outcry the CCG revealed at its public meeting last week that the service would continue to operate from the outreach sites – although in the majority of cases this would be for fewer hours per week.

The healthcare trust failed to comment on how many hours would be dropped.

The change has been termed ‘privatisation’ by some, including Northumberland county councillor Steven Bridgett, who has called for the issue to be formally investigated by the council’s Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny committee.

He said there had been a lack of proper consultation with residents and service users.

The new contract was due to begin on Monday, but one patient, who was previously receiving weekly appointments at Hexham General Hospital, and wished not to be named, said: “Since these changes, I have not been able to make an appointment for the last three weeks.

“I was told Connect Health would contact me, but they haven’t and I’m not allowed to ring them until July 15 by which time it will have been five weeks without treatment.

“I suffer from chronic pain and because my treatment has stopped it is getting worse.

“I understand some of the physio staff could lose their jobs, which is a disgrace.”

A spokesman for the trust said: “The new Joint Musculoskeletal and Pain Service (JMAPS) will enable more people from across Northumberland access to advice, treatment and care more efficiently than ever. Face to face appointments will be available at sixteen locations across the county. However, thanks to the new telemedicine based triage service, where appropriate patients will now be able to get expert advice in less time than before – without the need to leave the house.

“This new model of working has been put together with the help and assistance of frontline staff; all of whom have been retained. The service will be kept under constant review to ensure it is working as planned and that it is continuing to deliver the outstanding care our patients rightly expect.”

Hexham's MP Guy Opperman said: “It is completely unacceptable that some patients are having to wait so long for an appointment. I will be writing to the NHS Northumberland CCG to demand answers and find out what plans they have to work with Connect Health to improve the services provided across the Tyne Valley.

“Our precious NHS saved my life twice, and I have always campaigned to ensure we have as many services as possible delivered locally in Tynedale. I am delighted that the government is delivering more than £20 billion per year in extra funding for our NHS so we can keep improving services.