MASSAGE therapists have been told they can work in the current lockdown under certain conditions in an apparent U-turn by the Scottish Government.

Clinical Director Jason Leitch said in July that only regulated healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists and osteopaths were permitted to continue working in Tier 4 areas for 'urgent or essential' treatment such as pain relief.

All other close contact services including beauty therapy are required to remain closed.

However, a letter dated January 19 and seen by The Herald, has laid out certain conditions where it is permissible for massage therapists to treat clients.

It states that close contact services may operate in Level 4 if they are considered to be 'other services' that are ancillary to medical, health or social care services.

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Massage therapists are permitted to see clients if they have received a referral letter from a statutory regulated medical professional such as a GP or physiotherapist and the treatment must be 'essential or urgent' for a clinically diagnosed condition. The Scottish Government confirmed that the information is correct.

However, the SMTO (Scottish Massage Therapists Organisation) which represents around 900 therapists said the new guidance has created a "moral and ethical dilemma" because it does not want to advocate for staff to resume working at a time when the country is effectively in lockdown. It also fears the guideline could be open to abuse.

The letter states: "While the Scottish Government are not in a position to legally advise on individual cases, it is Scottish Government’s policy advice that therapists and patients have something in writing from the NHS and/or a regulated medical, health or social care professional first to confirm this.

"This is because the treatment should be deemed as a necessary part of a patient’s package of medical, health or social care, and in Level 4 we would advise that the focus of care should be restricted to essential or urgent treatment of clinically diagnosed conditions, where no treatment would have a significant adverse impact on the wellbeing of the patient."

Ruth Duncan, vice-chairwoman of the SMTO, said: "The SMTO has a responsibility to keep members and the public safe.

"However, we do recognise that there is a clause within the law if all the provisions are met a therapist can choose to use it.

"We would be asking the government to make this information public and include it in the close contact guidance that for urgent and essential healthcare a therapist can work if they have a documented referral letter."

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Balens, which is the main insurer for massage therapists, has advised that practitioners must follow the advice of representative groups and the Scottish Government.

Massage therapists and those practising other complementary therapies which are not subject to statutory regulation including Reiki and acupuncture have been allowed to continue working in England because of differing health and social care legislation which states treatments can continue if they treat pain or aid mental health. Sports massage therapists can also work alongside NHS professionals.

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The SMTO says differences in Scotland and England has created a "messy" two tier system.

Lorna Forrester, chairwoman of the SMTO, said: "There has been a lot of therapists contacting their MPs complaining that healthy, fit young sports people can continue to have massage under football regulations yet those who are in pain, those who are dying or those who are having oncology massage are not allowed to have it.

"I think maybe that is what has swayed the Scottish Government to give us this."

The SMTO has said previously that issues which have been thrown into focus by the pandemic about the industry underlines the need for regulation, in particular because those who are qualified to practice sport and remedial therapy work in a similar way to physiotherapists in managing and treating injuries and chronic pain.