Therapists' hands tied helping patients get back on track

Constraints include lack of appropriate infrastructure, resources, survey shows

Therapists are finding it difficult to ease their patients back into normal life.

Common problems include organisational constraints, scarce community resources and a lack of appropriate infrastructure.

These were the findings from a survey of nearly 200 occupational therapists and physiotherapists from six acute and five community hospitals.

Tan Tock Seng Hospital's principal occupational therapist, Dr Chan Mei Leng, who carried out the survey, said that the hospital setting "allows you enough time to prescribe but, after that, to follow them up properly - that's the other issue".

She revealed the results of the poll at the Singapore Rehabilitation Conference, held last Friday at the Singapore Expo.

Many therapists reported that they have their hands full just making sure their patients - who are often elderly and have various disabilities - are able to cope at home.

But to maintain physical and mental health, seniors must be able to get out and about in the community as well. Dr Chan said that the less a person gets out of the house, the easier it is for him to lose his cognitive function. "Basically, the joy of living is gone," she said.

While hospital therapists know this, many said they rarely have the opportunity to impress this upon patients' families. Said Dr Chan: "If I'm an occupational therapist, I'm going to look at how you are going to go to the market. Are there barriers? You have to train the maid, things like that. It takes time."

Another issue raised in the survey was the lack of community support for patients after their discharge from hospital.

While volunteers can be trained to take them on outings, "you need the professionals to be involved to train the carers", she said. "Bridging this gap is important."

Lastly, therapists surveyed also felt that existing infrastructure is not able to accommodate the needs of the disabled.

Dr Chan warned: "If we are going to keep prescribing wheelchairs but the infrastructure doesn't match up... we are going to have accidents."

linettel@sph.com.sg