MATS – no turning back


by Fraser Ferguson, NHS 24

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The Musculoskeletal Advice and Triage Service (MATS) is a single point of contact for patients self-referring to Allied Health Professional (AHP) NHSScotland musculoskeletal (MSK) services.

Callers are taken through a nationally developed and endorsed triage and given immediate access to self-management information. If required a referral is sent electronically to local services. The service is run by Call Operators supported by a team of clinicians.



Many muscle, back or joint problems will settle with self-care and often people do not need to see a healthcare professional. Delays to self-care have been found to increase time off work and to contribute to the development of chronic and co morbid conditions. Prior to MATS if you had an MSK problem you would have to make an appointment with your GP to get a referral to MSK services or access self-referral to physiotherapy services, which varied between and in boards.  Both routes generally had delays and could often set you off on the wrong course to recover function and reduce pain.


Patients in nine health boards can access MATS on a free phone number. This is 69% of the Scottish population.


Other health boards will hopefully be joining MATS soon to increase equitable access to care and advice.


Up to the end of December last year over a quarter of a million patients had used MATS.


MATS works closely with its current partners to improve access to the phone triage.

Put simply- without MATS, every patient who chooses to refer to MSK services will end up on a waiting list. When they get appointed they will be safely and efficiently dealt with by AHP services.


Using MATS means that its nationally developed and endorsed triage process helps identify those patients who at the time of their call would benefit from another care pathway. This could be immediateaccess to self-care resoucres or in some cases conatcting services for urgent medical care

Potential annual cost saving to NHSScotland when MATS is used rather than traditional referral route to AHP MSK services have been estimated at between £600,000 (if self care = 13%) to £1.6million (if self care =18%)

All patients who contact MATS are provided with nationally developed and endorsed self-care resources. The ethos behind this is that many people with an MSK problem do not always need to see a healthcare professional and can benefit, successfully, from starting quickly on a self-care programme with exercise, work, sports and painkiller advice. Why should anybody wait weeks for this advice – and when they eventually get it there will be may more secondary problems such as loss of movement, muscle bulk and strength. The MSK pages on NHS inform are where this self-care info lives.


The web site has had in excess of 1.2 million page views.

B6The MSK Help app supports this self care providing advice and a more tailored self-care platform on iPhones, iPads and Android devices. We have had over 50,000 downloads so far. You can get the app here.

No turning back…for MATS


MATS has come along way from it’s first day with one health board and a handful of call operators.

It will continue to provide quick access to patients with MSK problems. It will keep pushing ahead with technological transformnational change that will keep patient expectations at the forefront whilst aiming for a eHealth and Digital First focus.

NB To find about more accessing MATS if you live in NHS Ayrshire & Arran, Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, Forth Valley, Grampian, Highland, Lanarkshire, Lothian or Tayside look here


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