Physiotherapists ‘despondent’ as rehab spaces repurposed during pandemic not returned

More must be done to return rehabilitation facilities to patients after they were repurposed during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading physiotherapists have said.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said physiotherapists have been left “despondent” as they are unable to provide the levels of care their patients need.

Almost three quarters of physiotherapists (73%) have reported that they are not able to offer their patients the level of rehab they need to get well after illness or injury, according to a new CSP poll.

Many of the 350 UK physiotherapists surveyed told the CSP they were concerned for the mental wellbeing of their patients as a result of being unable to access appropriate levels of care.

Part of the problem is rehab space being taken away during the pandemic and either not returned or being replaced by inappropriate alternative facilities, the CSP said.

Some of the worst examples given during the survey include amputees waiting months for rehab, stroke survivors “imprisoned at home with a bed and a commode” and patients being treated in “corridors and storage facilities”.

Half of respondents said they are seeing fewer patients as a result.

Local NHS bodies have been urged to “urgently return rehab space taken during the pandemic, or to provide appropriate alternative facilities”.

And the CSP called on the Government to come up with a workforce strategy to ensure patients are able to get the appropriate level of care.

Professor Karen Middleton (pictured), chief executive of the CSP, said: “We are hearing devastating stories of physio staff having to provide vital rehab in corridors and storage facilities.

“Rehab gyms that are crucial for treating cardiac, stroke, amputee patients were repurposed during the pandemic but never returned.

“You can draw a direct line between these decisions and ambulances queuing outside A&E, along with patients then being stuck in hospital.

“Without quality rehab – whether in hospital or in the community – patients do not recover as well as they should, or experience serious deteriorations in their condition, and this only places greater pressure on those parts of the system that are already struggling to cope.”

An NHS physiotherapist from the East Midlands who specialises in neurological physiotherapy told the CSP her local health body had tried to “take the stroke gym away”, adding: “I have seen patients develop secondary complications due to the lack of therapy – symptoms such as spasticity, which I haven’t seen since the 90s prior to the stroke guidelines.

“Currently there are too many people being imprisoned in one room at home with a hospital bed and a commode.”

A physiotherapist based in London specialising in trauma and neurological conditions said: “We lost both our gym spaces where we delivered our rehabilitation programmes to patients at the beginning of the pandemic, and more than two years later we were still fighting to get it back.

“Our gyms contain vital equipment to support our patients to recover but also to support us to deliver care to our patients. For instance, it helps me manage or handle a 15-stone man who has had a stroke so that we can ensure that he is doing exercises that are crucial to him regaining function.”

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