Thye Hua Kwan to expand therapist pool by up to 50%

Move will help meet demand from small groups using welfare services

Groups which need the services of therapists but lack the resources to recruit them may soon get more help.

Welfare group Thye Hua Kwan Therapy Services, which "lends" therapists to groups such as nursing homes or special schools, is expanding its pool of therapists by up to 50 per cent.

It plans to add 15 to 20 therapists this year, bringing its total number to around 60, it told The Straits Times.

This follows plans announced earlier this month by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to expand the two existing "therapy hubs" run by Thye Hua Kwan and SPD, and also to set up a third.

The ministry's target is to raise the number of funded therapists at the hubs to 125 in two years' time, up from 42 now, with $7 million a year committed for this.

SPD was reported earlier this month to have 50 physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists, with plans to hire 10 more therapists this year.

The drive to recruit more therapists comes amid increased demand for their services as the population ages.

Ms Faith Tan, a senior speech therapist and manager of Thye Hua Kwan's children's therapy centre in Queenstown, said with more therapists to draw on, the welfare group will be more able to help smaller organisations.

Three years ago, it received five or six inquiries from these groups annually. Last year, it received nearly three times that number, she added.

But therapists of all kinds are in short supply, said Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities divisional director Joseph Cheong.

"We are not the only ones who are looking," he said. "We are in competition with the hospitals and the private organisations."

Thye Hua Kwan provides physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy services to the young and old. They include children with autism and developmental delays, as well as seniors recovering from ailments like strokes.

Like many other healthcare organisations, Thye Hua Kwan is looking overseas to places like Ireland, Australia, and Hong Kong to augment its pool of therapists.

But it is crucial to keep a strong core of locals, said Ms Tan. "There are certain things that are culturally sensitive which (foreigners) might not understand."

In the next two to three years, Thye Hua Kwan also hopes to build up caregiver training resources to help its clients.

Mr Cheong said: "If caregivers are trained, there's somebody to continue where you left off."

linettel@sph.com.sg