A pilot scheme for people with severe back pain, which is cutting GP workload and hospital waiting lists, is in line for a top health award.

The project, by Gwynedd-based physiotherapists Cathy Wynne and Rob Caine, has been shortlisted in the Advancing Healthcare Awards 2016.

The pair specialise in musculoskeletal problems and work in local surgeries, stepping in to treat people with joint conditions or back and neck pain, so patients don’t have to wait to see a GP or hospital consultant.

Cathy and Rob, who both work for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB), will travel to London on April 15 to hear if they’ve won the Prudently Advancing Practice category, which is sponsored by the Welsh Government.

The UK-wide awards, now in their tenth year, recognise and reward projects and professionals who lead innovative healthcare practice and make a real difference to patients’ lives. The awards are open to allied health professionals, healthcare scientists and those who work alongside them in support roles.

The pilot scheme, called Advanced Physiotherapy Practice in Primary Care, is about to be rolled out across North Wales and was devised by Cathy, who is based at Ysbyty Alltwen, Tremadog, and Rob, based at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor.

Cathy, BCUHB’s advanced physiotherapy practitioner lead who is completing a master’s degree in advanced clinical practice, said: “To win the award would be a wonderful achievement and would mean all our hard work over the last two years will have been recognised.

“We looked at the fact as much as 30 per cent of a GP’s caseload is based on patients with musculoskeletal problems such as neck or back aches.

“The idea of the pilot is to get into GP surgeries and work alongside doctors so we see patients who have musculoskeletal injuries or problems first rather than the GP

“We have advanced skills meaning we can request x-rays, refer for investigations such as ultra sound, and give soft tissue and joint injections.

“As physiotherapists we are actually sometimes better able to treat a musculoskeletal injury or problem rather than a GP.

“It may be that a GP will refer a patient to a hospital orthopaedic consultant, which may in fact be unnecessary and just be increasing hospital waiting times.”

Cathy, who lives near Harlech with her husband, a retired police officer husband, and their three sons, added: “Initially we set up clinics in GP surgeries in four areas – Blaenau Ffestiniog, Pwllheli, Nefyn and Barmouth.

“Those clinics have proved so successful we now have funding to roll out clinics across the BCUHB region.

“This means we can really take the pressure off GPs. It’s exciting to be here at the start of what’s basically a new service, one that will be better for patients as it means they will be treated quicker, more efficiently and, in many cases, closer to home.”

Rob, advanced practitioner primary care lead for BCUHB’s west region, said seeing a patient’s injury or problem early means they can prevent some issue becoming a chronic complaint.

He said: “The fact we are working in GPs surgeries is proving so worthwhile. For example I went into a GP surgery recently and saw six patients who had been referred for hospital appointments to see orthopaedic surgeons and physiotherapists.

“However, I was able to deal with every issue in the GP’s surgery. That means six patients got faster treatment, the hospital waiting list was instantly reduced and the orthopaedic surgeon’s time was saved.

“And, as we deal with the issue there and then, it means patients aren’t coming back to the surgery to see their GP three or four more times, which tends to happen if the injury or issues isn’t dealt with from the outset.”

Rob, who lives with his wife and baby son near Bangor, added: “What we are doing is similar to the work GPs do with regard to musculoskeletal issues, only we are able to combine the physiotherapy management as well. It’s advanced and groundbreaking work for physiotherapists but it works.

“It’s saving GPs huge amounts of time and means patients are seen more quickly and getting the right treatment earlier. We can prescribe anti-inflammatory medicines and give injections.

“It’s a fact that patients who visit their GP with a musculoskeletal issue will come back, on average, four or five times. We are saving all that time by treating and dealing with the issue correctly from the outset.”

He added: “To win the Advancing Healthcare Award would be fantastic – just being shortlisted is amazing. Cathy and I had to give a presentation to judges from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists in London.

“We just have to wait now, attend the ceremony in London and hopefully bring back an award for BCUHB.”

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board chief executive Gary Doherty said: “I am delighted that the work of Cathy and Rob has been recognised, with the shortlisting for the Advancing Healthcare Awards, and I wish them every success at the final.

“This project will deliver great benefits for patients – we are constantly looking for innovative ways to deliver our services, expertly and cost effectively.

“This innovation is part of our long term strategy of listening to what the people of North Wales want – delivering the right care, in the right place and  by the right person.”