This blog is in response to attending the MDUK launch event of the new Access to Hydrotherapy report. The event was held in Committee room 3 at the grand (& dusty) House of Lords.
Chairing the event was the dedicated Baroness Thomas of Winchester (Trustee & VP of MDUK) who attended in spite of breaking her right leg and sporting a plaster cast. The panel was Gill Storey the specialist neuromuscular (NM) physiotherapist at NMC Winsford & Kay White the specialist paediatric NM physiotherapist at Sheffield teaching hospital.
Gill Storey from NMC Winsford explained their excellent practices regarding free access to physio or hydro, which needs to be praised and maybe copied around the country. I have visited the NMC Winsford in Cheshire twice now and I do remember that they use a hydrotherapy pool in the school next door. I was extremely impressed by the ability of the NMC to deliver a viable business whilst being able to provide opportunities for people with neuromuscular conditions to do a graphic design course and then work as graphic designers and receiving incredible physio & hydrotherapy input.
I was slightly was puzzled as to why Kay White was there as she works in the paediatric department so she could not provide information on adult services, which was a shame, but I do thank her for her time.
In the meeting, we discussed personal experiences on hydrotherapy and it was unanimous how it is an important treatment. Martyn Blekman illustrated the rollercoaster ride access to hydrotherapy is around the UK and how necessary it is to fight for your care and what you are entitled to in regards the NHS. Proactive not reactive. We know what works for our body so we need to express this fact to health professionals and make sure we are in control of the choices available to us.
In the report Baroness Thomas of Winchester explained her shocking personal experience and brought up important points on the limitations of the NHS assessment method and necessary outcome criteria, “Where NHS-funded hydrotherapy is available, it is often restricted to patients whose improvements can be demonstrably measured… because people with muscle-wasting conditions fail to meet the ‘cured’ criteria”
Shockingly in the report, Muscular Dystrophy UK undertook extensive research that found in the UK the provision of hydrotherapy pools is far greater for animals (362). This is compared to 179 pools that are suitable for people with muscle-wasting conditions. There are over 70,000 people in the UK living with a muscle-wasting condition. In the current situation, this means there is one hydrotherapy pool available for every 395. By contrast, if the hydrotherapy pools solely for the use of animals were also available to people, it would mean one hydrotherapy pool available for every 131.
The key findings are pretty damning evidence that there needs to be a complete rethink on access to hydrotherapy for people with neuromuscular conditions and their families:
- Families are told that hydrotherapy is only used for rehabilitation cases
- Families are being told to show measurable change when using hydrotherapy pools
- 30% of hydrotherapy pools are too expensive to access (some families forced to pay over £75 per visit)
- 90% consider hydrotherapy to be a crucial part of managing their muscle-wasting condition, yet almost half say they access it very rarely
- Almost 20% of respondents say they travel between 20 and 100 miles for their nearest accessible hydrotherapy pool which is not sustainable
- Many hydrotherapy pools do not have hoists or accessible changing facilities.
- Many hydro pools are based in schools so only open term time
- In some areas of the UK, one hydrotherapy pool available per 1,300 people.
These findings all reflect an unacceptable situation. MDUK believe that all people living with muscle-wasting conditions should be able to enjoy the opportunity to access hydrotherapy, regardless of where in the country they live or how rich they are.
p style=”text-align:justify;”>Interestingly in some countries (e.g. Germany), hydrotherapy is seen as vital treatment and patients are reimbursed by the health insurance companies. However, in the UK, hydrotherapy is not seen as a routine service for managing a long-term mobility problem. The NHS should acknowledge that anyone with a neuromuscular condition should be able to access hydrotherapy, some EU countries have always provided more for their disabled population.
We need to now move away from the focus on physical outcomes or quantitative practices to acknowledge how hydrotherapy impacts psychologically on quality of life (which could be used as a measurable change outcome) or pain reduction. Socially hydrotherapy can help families, siblings or friends to participate in social activities with similar ability levels as someone with a muscle-wasting condition. It may decrease the number of physiotherapy appointments necessary so can save the NHS money in the long run.