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Cerebral Palsy and other neurological conditions: why such problems accessing hydrotherapy?

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    Denis Campbell, health correspondent for the Guardian, reported this year that: “Hydrotherapy pool closures leave NHS patients high and dry” and that “Users attack short-termism of shutting specialist warm water treatment centers for disabled people and stroke survivors”

    By Kerstin Kubiak

The closure of specialist hydrotherapy centres has become more common due to NHS funding cuts; the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy criticises this move, particularly as it would be possible for the pools to provide mixed private and NHS, thereby covering their running costs.

I find that for the vast majority of my clients who have cerebral palsy or spinal injuries hydrotherapy is of vital importance not only for its therapeutic benefits but also for the sense of freedom and enjoyment it gives to those who are otherwise confined by a restricted or difficult range of movement with land based exercise. It’s very demoralising for service users of such specialist heated pools, including hoisting equipment, to see access becoming even more curtailed.

One mother, whose child was a client of the Clinical Negligence Team (after consulting one of our cerebral palsy specialist solicitors) has commented in respect of the effects of hydrotherapy for their child:

“I would say that he loved it from the start and you could tell this because he was smiling in the water and really enjoyed the freedom of movement in splashing his arms and legs. It was really amazing to watch him in the water and I thought that there was a fantastic change in him. I noticed after our hydrotherapy sessions that it would help with his general well being and in particular with his sleep. I noticed that he was very relaxed in the pool; outside the pool he is usually very tense in his muscles. His limbs seem a lot freer in the pool and he can move himself about with greater ease. It was so lovely and warm that quite often he would drop off to sleep when taken out of the water.”

Such testimonies are not unusual and go to demonstrate the real and profound benefits received from exercise in a specially heated pool.

The Defendants in most clinical negligence claims (where the patient has sued the NHS) argue that from a clinical perspective hydrotherapy is of no therapeutic benefit and is a mere source of ‘enjoyment’ for a child or adult with cerebral palsy. If damages are not recovered for hydrotherapy provision then the Claimant will be reliant upon local pool facilities, which is a great risk given their increasing closures.

The expert physiotherapists in hydrotherapy comment that the purpose of hydrotherapy is a: “program utilising the properties of water, specifically designed by a suitably qualified Physiotherapist for an individual to maximise their level of function whether physical, physiological or psychological.” Aquatic Therapy Association of Chartered Physiotherapists 2007.

Specialist paediatric physiotherapists in aqua therapy recommend aqua therapy because it can aid with joint movements which are no longer possible on land without causing discomfort, giving the patient the experience and sensation of whole and free body movement in different planes, maintaining and developing trunk control and movement and giving a multisensory experience, to name but a few benefits.

It is hoped that both the NHS and Defendant Hospital Trusts (in cases where the Claimant is suing the NHS) will fully appreciate the wide therapeutic benefits of aquatic therapy for those who benefit hugely from this resource.

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