Setting up a national physiotherapy programme specifically for people with multiple sclerosis could save the state €19 million, a leading Irish charity has said.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Ireland, which has called for State funding to run a countrywide physiotherapy service, has said that delivering regular specialist physiotherapy to people with MS would significantly reduce GP and emergency department (ED) visits and hospital stays for this group of patients.
“Research by MS Ireland has found that greater access to physiotherapy could delay and reduce disability due to MS which in turn would reduce costs to the Irish health service,” said Dr Susan Coote, exercise and physiotherapy co-ordinator with MS Ireland. The charity estimated the annual savings from reduced GP and emergency department visits and hospital stays to be €19 million.
The charity, which provides physiotherapy services to one-fifth of people with MS in Ireland, wants to employ nine specialist physiotherapists throughout Ireland to reach more people with MS and other neurological conditions. At the announcement of its proposals on Thursday, it estimated the annual cost for this service to be €880,000.
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Dr Coote said that studies have shown the effectiveness of physiotherapy in reducing symptoms severity, disability, falls and reduced use of health services.
“Physiotherapy also improves individuals’ mental health, their participation in physical activities and enables them to live well at home,” said Dr Coote.
MS Ireland, the 700,000 people with neurological conditions in Ireland account for one in eight primary care consultations and one in five emergency admissions to hospital. Many of the 10,000 people with MS in Ireland have reported difficulty accessing regular physiotherapy services through primary care teams.
“People with MS have told us that they can’t get physiotherapy through the HSE and if they do, it’s not for long enough,” said Dr Coote.
The proposed new specialist physiotherapy services would include group online/in-person physical activity and symptom-management programmes as well as individual treatment sessions for people with MS and other neurological conditions.
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During the Covid-19 pandemic, MS Ireland moved many of their physiotherapy programmes online enabling more than 1,600 people attending local exercise classes to continue via Zoom. A Sláintecare pilot programme called Active Neuro in the Midwest region provided specialist online physiotherapy programmes to 440 people with neurological conditions.
The charity would like to offer a blend of in-person and online physiotherapy services throughout Ireland similar to what exists in the West of Ireland.
Pascal Stephens from Glasnevin, Dublin is a regular participant in MS Ireland physiotherapy programmes. “I believe physio classes have played a large part in keeping me mobile and independent. I also love the social aspect too. I am very thankful for them,” he said.