About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) contains an update on how long patients wait for Musculoskeletal (MSK) services delivered by Allied Health Professionals (AHP). This includes Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Chiropody/Podiatry and Orthotics and information on patients using the Musculoskeletal Advice and Triage Service (MATS) (external website) operated by NHS24.

This is the first quarterly release of statistics since March 2020. The May release was cancelled due to the impact of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, while the September release was cancelled as a result of concerns about the accuracy of data reported by some NHS Boards. This release covers quarters ending 31 March, 30 June and 30 September 2020.

The statistics presented in this release are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed referral and treatment patterns within these services. On 17 March 2020, NHSScotland was placed in emergency measures and Boards were asked to suspend all non-urgent elective treatment. Waiting lists were re-prioritised and the focus moved to urgent patient appointments with an emphasis on virtual appointments (telephone or Near Me (external website)) for the majority.

Significant data quality issues affecting this release are described in the background.

Main points

For the 12 territorial NHS Boards able to provide up-to-date data:

  • 53,323 referrals for a first outpatient appointment were received in quarter ending September 2020, an increase from 18,764 referrals in the quarter ending June 2020 but 7% fewer referrals than were received by these Boards during the quarter ending September 2019.
  • 41,433 referred patients were seen at a first outpatient appointment in the quarter ending September 2020, an increase from 21,350 patients seen in the quarter ending June 2020 but still 43.7% fewer than were seen in these Boards in the quarter ending September 2019.
  • The number of referred patients still waiting (34,918) for a first outpatient appointment at 30 September 2020 was 17.1% fewer than at 30 June 2020. This is because of a reduction in both referrals and removals (including those removed because they were seen) from the list as services took steps to prioritise, manage and administer patients already waiting to be seen. The number of referrals began to increase from May but remains less than the number of patients being removed from lists each month and so the number of patients waiting reduced.
  • At month end 30 September 2020, the percentage of patients seen within four weeks of referral for a first outpatient appointment was 52.5%. This compares to 59.8% in June 2020 and 44.2% in September 2019.
Image caption Number of patients referred, waiting and removed from the list, January to September 2020
Number of patients referred, waiting and removed from the list, Jan - Sept 2020  A line chart showing three trends for the 12 Boards providing data (January 2020 - September 2020) : - The number of patients waiting ( All MSK professions) - The number of referrals ( All MSK professions) - The number of removals (including attendances) ( All MSK professions)


A significant data quality issue has arisen in records submitted to the national data warehouse by six Boards due to a problem in a recent software update to their local Patient Management System. In place of warehouse submissions predominately for 2020 data, NHS Borders, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Shetland submitted aggregate data for this release. NHS Grampian and NHS Orkney were unable to submit data for 2020. Further, as a consequence of other technical and resource constraints, NHS Fife were unable to provide Chiropody/Podiatry data from April 2020 onwards and Occupational Therapy data for NHS Western Isles has been excluded. Data is included from MATS up to 20 March 2020 only, when the service was suspended due to the impact of COVID-19. It remained suspended at 30 September 2020.

MSK conditions (external website) affect joints, bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, tendon sheaths, bursa and muscles.

The Scottish Government has determined that at least 90% of AHP MSK patients should wait no longer than four weeks to be seen from receipt of referral. See NHSScotland Waiting Times Guidance (external website) for more information. The target should be met by each profession individually.

Information on data submitted for each Board and profession is available for all time periods from the data files section at the top of this page.

Further information

Find out more in the full report. The data from this publication is available to download from the data files section of this page and the NHSScotland Open Data platform (external website)

The next release of this publication will be 16 March 2021.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.ahpmsk@phs.scot.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

Requesting other formats and reporting issues

If you require publications or documents in other formats, please email phs.otherformats@phs.scot.

To report any issues with a publication, please email phs.generalpublications@phs.scot.

Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 13 June 2022
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