The UK’s flagship NHS dance injury clinic has closed suddenly, leaving injured performers without treatment plans and restricting access to free specialist care.
Its closure by the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, where it was based, has been described as “hugely disappointing”, with those affected claiming they are being forced to work with injuries because of the loss of care.
The RNOH said it had planned to close the centre in 2020 as part of a wider plan to concentrate specialist services in fewer centres, but had accelerated the process following the resignation of the centre’s sole consultant.
The clinic was run by the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science and was part of the now-closed Sports and Exercise Medicine clinic at the RNOH in north London.
Set up in 2012 it was hailed as a pioneering service that would allow dancers to receive specialised treatment and rehabilitation, as well as acting as a hub for research into dance-specific injuries.
The clinic was the first of its kind in the UK and was followed by specialist services in Birmingham and Bath – which are unaffected – and earlier this year expanded its remit to cover additional conditions affecting dancers.
It has now stopped taking any further appointments and will wind down its operation over the next two months.
Helen Laws, head of the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science, said: “This decision by the RNOH to close the service without consultation or sufficient planning, after seven years of establishing such vital care for dancers, is hugely disappointing.”
Dancers receiving treatment at the clinic have been left without ongoing plans, and the centre’s closure has increased waiting times at other dance injury clinics.
Denni Sayers, a choreographer being treated for a knee injury, said she had turned to private clinics out of necessity and had spent around £1,500 on additional care to enable her to continue working.
“The idea [of the clinic] was that dancers can be seen by an industry specialist quickly so that we weren’t dancing on injuries, compounding injuries, and thereby costing the NHS even more money,” she said.
Sayers said she had been working with an injured knee since March because of cancellations and rescheduling that had occurred in the past few months, prior to the announcement of closure.
She added: “I’ve been told I will be offered an alternative appointment but I won’t be seeing a dance specialist even though dance makes very particular demands on our bodies.”
The clinic had previously been praised for offering specialised treatment for free, meaning freelance dancers could continue to receive care if they were unable to work.
Nicola Stephens, physiotherapist at the Performers College in Essex, described the centre as a “lifeline” for injured dance students.
She said: “For any injuries that require a medical opinion, investigation or intervention, we need NIDMS. The local NHS services do not understand what our dancers do.
“NIDMS not only understands the needs of a dancer, it understands the specific requirements of our courses at Performers College, it is happy to work alongside our therapists and provide an amazing service to student dancers who would otherwise be unable to afford medical care.”
NIDMS said it has been able to negotiate continued NHS specialist care at Mile End Hospital, with anyone seeking referrals in London advised to contact the organisation.
A petition protesting the closure of the centre has so far received more than 200 signatures.
A statement from the RNOH said: “This decision for planned closure in 2020 was made in the best interests of patients and their need to be treated in a resilient service in the medium to long term. It is consistent with the future proposed configuration of services in north central London, with the intention to concentrate specialised services in fewer centres, where more patients can be treated within a fully staffed, sustainable service.
“We appreciate that there is a limited time frame to communicate with patients in the individualised manner that we would aspire to. While this is regrettable, the above circumstances leave us with few options. Undoubtedly a sincere apology is due to all affected parties for the distress and inconvenience this situation will cause.”