Physiotherapists criticise slow pace of plan


The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP) has expressed concern over the slow pace of implementation of the Government's primary-care strategy.

In an end-of-year statement, it has questioned whether there will be sufficient funding to support the 10 primary-care implementation projects announced recently by the Minister for Health, Mr Martin.

Ms Siobhan Treacy, president of the ISCP, while welcoming the strategy, said there was a growing feeling among physiotherapists that the momentum for the initiative had slowed down within the Department of Health.

"Questions have arisen over the timing of these projects," she said. "Many of the new projects, which the primary-care task force has earmarked for funding this year, have yet to receive their investment. And there is also the question of whether some of these projects were already in existence."

One of the criteria for the implementation of the primary-care teams was that a chartered physiotherapist would be a key member of staff in each unit.

The ISCP,which represents the physiotherapy profession in the Republic, said: "This has yet to happen."

In announcing much strengthened, primary-care teams in each health board, Mr Martin guaranteed funding of €8.4 million for the 10 implementation projects. These teams will include general practitioners, nurses/midwives, healthcare assistants, home helps, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, a social worker and administrative personnel.

According to Ms Treacy, physiotherapists in primary-care teams have an important role in the early discharge of patients from hospitals for rehabilitation in the community. "This would be of major economic benefit to the health service and economy at large."

She said community-based rehabilitation services including physiotherapists would also play an important role in preventing hospital admissions, and early intervention prevented many conditions becoming chronic. As a result, the need for referral to hospital-based services could be prevented.

According to the ISCP, it is no longer acceptable that physiotherapists be considered an optional extra to other forces within the health service, and that the economic and quality-of-life benefits of a good physiotherapy service "stand up to any scrutiny".

The physiotherapists' representative group is also concerned that inadequate research has been carried out into the numbers of physiotherapists needed to fill positions in the proposed primary-care teams.

The Bacon Report (a review on supply and demand in the labour market of the therapy professions) has identified a "brain drain" of physiotherapists from the State after graduation. The logic and economics of the current situation, where graduates continue to leave the country while the Department of Health and Children actively recruits overseas is questionable, the statement added.

The establishment of a school of physiotherapy at the University of Limerick was welcomed by the society, but it has requested that the matter of ensuring that all Irish graduates have an opportunity to work at home be addressed.