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Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 00:20 GMT 01:20 UK
'Too few' sports doctors for 2012
Athletes on the starting block
Sports doctors could look after elite and amateur athletes alike
There are not enough doctors specialising in sports medicine to meet the level of demand created by the UK hosting the 2012 Olympics, medics say.

Physicians are calling on primary care trusts to recruit one specialist each, to treat sports injuries and to help tackle rising levels of obesity.

The Royal College of Physicians says specialists are key to improving activity levels.

But PCT leaders said the proposal was unrealistic given other demands.

Currently, initiatives to improve long-term health of communities compete for resources with day-to-day service provision
Nigel Edwards, NHS Confederation

The Royal College is launching a new faculty of sports and exercise medicine.

There are currently just three sports and exercise doctors on the register - in Belfast, Nottingham and London - despite the speciality being backed by the government last year.

Professor Charles Galasko said there needed to be around 10 times that number by 2012 - and in the longer term, each PCT needed a sports medicine specialist.

The specialists would look after local amateur and elite athletes, work at sports venues, promote sport as a way of helping people with chronic diseases such as respiratory diseases and Type 2 diabetes, as well as promoting the role of exercise in preventing obesity and running wellness clinics.

Professor Galasko said a pilot scheme in Oxfordshire had shown having a sports specialist saved a PCT 140,000.

"Patients were seen by people with the right skills in the community; not going to A&E with their injuries then waiting for weeks for physiotherapy, then having a chronic problem that costs a lot to treat and means they need time off work."

He said the length of the training programme meant doctors would have to begin training next year at the latest to be ready for 2012.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "The work of the speciality will be of wide national relevance in light of the prevalence of obesity in the UK.

"Increasing numbers of people will require professional guidance in order to exercise effectively to prevent or combat obesity."

'One idea among many'

But Dr Mike Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, which represents PCTs, said the college's aim was something that could happen "in an ideal world" where there was a surfeit of funding - and it would benefit the area.

"PCTs are cash-strapped, and so they must show that ideas are cost-effective. In the current climate, this is one idea among many priorities.

"The question will be how it relates to paying for cancer drugs recommended by Nice."

He said PCTs should be working to help the public recognise the benefits of exercise and sport through current staffing.

"Each PCT has different priorities.

"In the same way Whitehall can't prescribe what all PCTs should be doing, neither can the college in relation to sport and exercise."

Nigel Edwards, of the NHS Confederation, which represents health service managers, said: "Primary care trusts have a wide range of priorities to address - particularly the need to achieve financial balance which the government has made clear is the top priority.

"Currently, initiatives to improve long-term health of communities compete for resources with day-to-day service provision.

"They should not be considered as alternatives as both are needed."




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