Medical provision within English football falls short of the mark

Medical provision within English professional football is still someway short of where it should be according to research carried out by a senior academic at Loughborough University.

Doctor Dominic Malcolm, who is a Sociology of Sport expert within the world-renowned School of Sport, Exercise and Heath Sciences at Loughborough, called on the Football Association (FA) to monitor the implementation of their policies more effectively.

The study titled ‘Medical Provision in English Professional Football: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ recommends that regulations should be clarified, employment procedures should be enhanced and that medical provision should be improved across the board.

Doctor Malcolm, along with colleagues from Chichester and Chester/Oslo universities sought to repeat an earlier study from 1999 that found ‘a catalogue of poor employment practice’ in professional football. Following that study the FA significantly strengthened its regulations; however standards still fall short of employment best practice, according to the more recent study.

In January 2014 a short questionnaire was mailed to a named club doctor and physiotherapist at each of the 92 clubs in the English Premier and Football Leagues, with response rates of 35.8% and 45.6% respectively. Whilst the study found that in the 15 years since, medical provision has become increasingly professional, standards are still too low. Appointment procedures continue to fall below best practice, positions are rarely advertised and frequently filled via personal contacts, and interviews are frequently not held, or not conducted by someone qualified to judge medical expertise.

Commenting on the research published as a British Journal of Sports Medicine blog, Malcolm pronounces that the FA should both strengthen its regulations regarding the minimum qualifications for medical personnel, and actively monitor compliance. In what is a dangerous industry, it would be reasonable to insist that all football club doctors have a Diploma in Sport and Exercise Medicine.

Despite what seems like obvious economic sense, it is clear that the clubs – and indeed the FA – still devote too little resource to the healthcare of players, and have some way to go if they are to properly safeguard the health of players.

Of the study’s findings, Dr Malcolm said:

“It is a matter of considerable concern to players and fans alike that professional football clubs are not complying with FA medical regulations regarding the appointment of appropriately qualified staff and Continuous Professional Development.”

“Ten years ago Sport and Exercise Medicine became a medical speciality in the UK. It’s surely time that professional football clubs in England made sure that players were treated by someone who is a specialist.”

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