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TX: 12.06.08 - Physiotherapy

PRESENTER: LIZ BARCLAY
Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
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BARCLAY
Now the number of people applying for university physiotherapy training courses, due to start in September, is seriously down, according to our research. As we've reported, over the past couple of years there's been a backlog of newly trained physiotherapists who can't get jobs due to NHS budget cuts and this seems to be a knock on effect of that. But, at the same time, demand from patients for physiotherapy is increasing.

Vanda Fenn is admissions coordinator for the University of the West of England. Vanda Fenn, how far have your applications fallen?

FENN
Our applications for this cycle have fallen by about 43% on last year.

BARCLAY
So you have vacancies still for the course in September?

FENN
We have a handful of vacancies still for this September.

BARCLAY
Would you normally be full by now?

FENN
We would normally be full by now, that is correct.

BARCLAY
You decided to contact other universities to find out if they're having the same problem, what did you find?

FENN
We did, we went through the Council of Deans and our admissions tutors also have an informal network, so we've had anecdotal evidence from other universities that it is a national picture. Although the North East of England doesn't seem to be quite so badly hit as other regions.

BARCLAY
And so are you saying then that 43% is the norm?

FENN
I'm saying that there are pockets of it, some are far worse hit than that - up to 55%'s been reported by one university whereas some universities do not appear to be hit by the problem.

BARCLAY
Now physiotherapy has always been a fiercely competitive course, in the past some universities could get 20 applications for a place, why do you think there's such a drop?

FENN
One of the reasons we have to look at is the changes in the UCAS system, whereby applicants in this cycle can now only apply for five choices whereas up until now they've been able to apply to six universities. We're also seeing an improvement in the quality of application forms, that I think applicants are thinking far more carefully about the course to apply for before they're putting in an application form. And I think the third factor is that there is publicity around saying that jobs for newly qualified physiotherapists are hard to come by and therefore applicants are sometimes reluctant to apply.

BARCLAY
And we've had an e-mail on that saying exactly it is difficult for physiotherapists to get jobs. What would you say to people who are considering applying?

FENN
I would say go out, have a look, check that it is actually the career that you want to do and then put in an application form, I think the picture is likely to improve, more funding is available within the NHS, I think the jobs will be there. Also looking at the demographic changes happening within retirement ages of existing physiotherapists, that in three or four years time the jobs will be available again.

BARCLAY
Well the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has just published new figures which suggest that that is the case - there already has been a small improvement in job prospects for newly qualified physios. According to their research a fifth of physiotherapy graduates are still looking for their first physiotherapy post now, compared with 45% who were still looking back in November. Samantha Haw finished her training in July but has had to wait for her first job. Samantha you've got a first job now but that's fairly recently?

HAW
Yes that's right, I got my post within the last month.

BARCLAY
And it's not the end of your troubles is it because this is a locum post - a temporary contract?

HAW
That's right, I've been employed through a locum agency and fortunately it is a full term post and it's ongoing but I'm only going to get a week's notice when that funding for my post has come to an end, so there is no security with my position.

BARCLAY
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy's research shows that it is getting slightly easier, do you think that's the case?

HAW
I personally have found it very difficult to get a job but I have been quite diverse in where I am willing to look for posts, such as with locum agencies and things and jobs are coming up now, which are bank positions and for temporary contracts, which I think might be why the figures are showing that a higher proportion of physiotherapy graduates are now in employment.

BARCLAY
So would your advice then, to anyone thinking about training in physiotherapy, be the same as Vanda's - just go for it?

HAW
I wouldn't say just go for it, I would say do your research, try and do some volunteer work shadowing physiotherapists so that you know what you're going to be taking on when you go on the course. It is quite a difficult course but one that is very rewarding. And if you do feel that it is a career that you would like to pursue then definitely go ahead and apply.

BARCLAY
And you're still on the search for a full time contract?

HAW
I'm desperately looking for a full time contract yes.

BARCLAY
Samantha and Vanda thank you very much.

Well applications for training are down and people are still finding it difficult to find jobs in the NHS, as Samantha's been saying, but of course the Chartered Society says that demand for physio is still increasing. A tenth of hospital admissions require physiotherapy and there is an ageing population so there are gaps in the physiotherapy services. Now the problem is so bad that charities are now funding some posts. Simon Gillespie is chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Simon, you're funding posts - why did you decide to do that?

GILLESPIE
Well for somebody with Multiple Sclerosis there are clear needs to make sure that people can stay as mobile as possible for as long as possible and to aid with problems like spasticity, which is common for many people with later stage Multiple Sclerosis. Physiotherapy has clear and obvious benefits for them and as the disease progresses it means, for example, they enjoy a better quality of life and for many people it may give the chance of maintaining themselves in employment for longer, which of course is of benefit to everybody.

BARCLAY
The Department of Health says that the NHS has - employs 20,146 physiotherapists and the department gave us a statement saying: The NHS in England has seen a record level of investment, the number of physiotherapists has increased by 41% since September 1997. It's for primary care trusts to determine how best to use their funds to meet national and local priorities.

Twenty thousand already in the system, you're funding just five posts, just a drop in the ocean some would say, do you have plans to expand that?

GILLESPIE
Yes indeed we do and those five posts are in England, we've actually got some similar schemes in Scotland, in Wales and some developmental work going on in Northern Ireland now. It's very clear to us that the sort of specialist needs that somebody with MS or maybe another neurological condition has is not always fulfilled by a generalist physiotherapist. So the sort of physio that you might get if you're recovering from an accident or something isn't always applicable to somebody with a neurological condition like MS. So we want to make sure, as well, that there are enough people with specialist skills to be able to deal effectively and appropriately with somebody with Multiple Sclerosis.

BARCLAY
And you are working with other charities?

GILLESPIE
Yes indeed, we've got some joint work going on at the moment with the Parkinsons' Disease Society. Of course there are issues about whether charities' money should be spent on this type of programme. We've got a lot of experience in developing, for example, specialist MS nurses where over the last five years we've funded over a hundred specialist MS nurses. We've developed that programme to make sure that PCTs then pick up the funding for those posts afterwards.

BARCLAY
And you're hoping that the same will happen in this case?

GILLESPIE
Very much so but it's early days for us but this is so important for people with MS.

BARCLAY
How will you manage to pay for it, even if it's only five posts it's quite expensive?

GILLESPIE
It is expensive, each post costs of the order of £40,000 a year. We have very, very generous supporters, we have generous supporters who supported us with the MS nursing programme and I'm sure that those supporters will come on board for this. But we think it's important because we can show to the NHS what the benefits of these specialists are. And we also have a little reflection on this and it's appropriate because this week is Carers' Week that actually we want to make sure that those people who care for people with MS also get the care that they need, for example in dealing with back problems that might come with lifting.

BARCLAY
Simon Gillespie thank you very much for joining us.

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