About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) contains an update on how long patients wait for a first outpatient appointment at Allied Health Professional (AHP) led Musculoskeletal (MSK) services. MSK conditions (external website) affect joints, bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, tendon sheaths, bursa and muscles. The data in this release covers Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Chiropody/Podiatry and Orthotics, and the Musculoskeletal Advice and Triage Service (MATS) (external website) operated by NHS24. The Scottish Government has determined that at least 90% of patients should wait no longer than four weeks to be seen by these services from receipt of referral.

Main points

During the quarter ending March 2021:

  • There were 63,018 referrals for a first outpatient appointment at an AHP-led MSK service. This is similar to 63,495 referrals in the quarter ending December 2020. Referrals remain lower than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and are 37.3% less than during the quarter ending December 2019. This excludes self-referrals to the MATS which was suspended in March 2020 and has not resumed.
  • 43,451 patients were seen at a first outpatient appointment, 13.4% fewer than during the quarter ending December 2020. With the second lockdown, fewer patients were seen each month from December - March 2021, as compared to November 2020. Telephone and ‘Near Me (external website)’ appointments continued to be used widely during the quarter.

Patients seen and proportion within 4 weeks, across Scotland, Jan 2019 – March 2021

Percentage of Patients seen within 4 weeks for quarter ending December 2018 to quarter ending December 2019. This line chart shows the percentage of patients seen within 4 Weeks for quarters ending: December 2018, March 2019, June 2019, September 2019 and December 2019. The chart shows trends for the following specialties with percentages for respective quarters are presented in brackets after each specialty : All AHP MSK Specialties (46.4, 50.9, 48.2, 44.4, 45.4) Occupational Therapy (66.3, 63.1, 62.6, 66.9, 68.5)  Physiotherapy (42.0, 43.0, 43.7, 43.3, 43.5)  Chiropody Podiatry (54.2, 68.4, 54.1, 35.4, 42.4)  Orthotics (41.4, 47.9, 45.7, 44.7, 42.7) The chart also presents a line for the 90% standard.
  • The percentage of patients seen within the target of four weeks of referral was 62.7%, compared to 59.0% in the quarter ending December 2020. The percentage of patients seen within 4 weeks has increased from 43.6% in the quarter ending December 2019 reflecting the prioritisation of urgent patients during the remobilisation of services.
  • At 31 March 2021, 39,671 patients were waiting for a first outpatient appointment in comparison to 33,627 patients at 31 December 2020, an increase of 18%. However, this is 58.7% fewer patients waiting than at 31 December 2019, largely due to fewer referrals than removals (including those removed following attendance) over this period.


The statistics presented in this release are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed referral and treatment patterns within these services. A number of Boards have also been unable to submit all the required data during the period. For comparison purposes, references made to Scotland data exclude both MATS data, due to the suspension of the helpline since March 2020, and NHS Fife (Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and Orthotics) arising from technical issues submitting data to the national warehouse.

Previously published aggregate data is included for NHS Borders, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde as historical data remains impacted by a previously reported problem with the software update to their local Patient Management System. NHS Western Isles Occupational Therapy data has been excluded, as they are using a new patient management system (Morse) which does not currently support national reporting. Information on data submitted for each Board and profession is available for all time periods and is footnoted in the data tables.

The waiting time used for this target is an adjusted waiting time, with adjustments made up to 4 weeks based on the NHSScotland Waiting Times Guidance (external website).

Further information

Open data from this publication is available from the Scottish Health and Social Care Open Data platform (external website).

The next release of this publication will be 14 September 2021.

General enquiries

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

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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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