THE leader of a massage training school in Scotland has criticised the government after therapists were told they could re-open and then forced to close two days later.

Sport and remedial therapists, who are trained to treat injuries, were advised by a professional association that they could begin treating clients for pain relief from Monday, July 6.

The Scottish Massage Therapists Organisation (SMTO), claim they were told by two MPs that the  government’s Business and Social Distancing Team had approved the move saying treatments could be classed as a ‘vocational medical service.” The Herald has seen one email confirming this. 

However, two days later, Clinical Director Jason Leitch issued a statement urging businesses to remain closed, saying the advice about massage had not changed and only regulated industries such as physiotherapy were permitted to treat sports injuries.

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Mr Leitch’s letter was prompted by an inquiry from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists questioning why massage had been approved in Scotland ahead of England. Massage is used by private physiotherapists but less so by NHS staff.

It has led to a situation where nail bars and beauty spas - which also offer massage and involve close contact - have been told they can treat clients from July 22, while sports therapists have been given no date for re-opening.

The SMTO said the issue had reinforced its calls for industry regulation.

Lynne Dunlop, principal of Western School, which runs courses at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “We were  disappointed to learn from Professor Jason Leitch’s letter, received late on Wednesday night, that only “statutory regulated” therapists could return to work.

“Many therapists had been treating clients from Monday and most of us were starting to fill appointments, only to be told 72 hours later to stop treating. It was confusing at best and unprofessional at worst.

“We had strict guidelines from our governing body, SMTO, who have been working tirelessly with MSPs, MPs, lawyers and health advisers, thus ensuring our therapists had complete risk assessments, screening questions, insurance and PPE in place before opening their businesses.

“The industry is as vast as it is varied, with suitably qualified therapists often providing pain relief to individuals who have exhausted other routes via NHS or who prefer not to take prescription medication for pain.”

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Lynsey Mackenzie, a  sports and remedial therapist, added: “ This random U-turn further belittles our clinical knowledge and expertise and it is clear this is due to the government’s lack of understanding about our industry.

“Decisions appear to have been made based on ill-educated, antiquated assumptions that massage therapy is nothing more than a bit of rubbing to help you relax.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We recognise that many people gain relief from their symptoms through massage therapies and complementary and alternative therapies, which are also an important part of the economy.

"However, as we continue the careful relaxation of restrictions, provision of close contact therapies must be justified against the need to protect the public.”

"Work is being undertaken to assess clinical evidence of the risk of transmission for private therapies which involve close personal contact for extended periods.”