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Covid-19Mar 17, 2022

Parents handed 'burden' of giving physiotherapy to disabled children during pandemic, says report

Families had to attempt to deliver physiotherapy to their disabled children because they had no other option during the most acute phases of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a House of Lords report that was released yesterday (16 March).

The report, titled Living in a Covid World: A long-term approach to resilience and wellbeing, was written by the House of Lords Covid-19 committee. Members took verbal evidence from a number of families with disabled children last year and summarised what they were told in the report.

‘We heard about infants who had not learned to crawl because their housing had such little floor space. We heard about parents who had been left to take “on the burden of doing physio, occupational therapy, [and] speech therapy”, as well as home-schooling, for their disabled children, as their pre-Covid packages of 24-hour support disappeared overnight.’

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
A child with cerebral palsy is pictured in a therapy centre (stock image)

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Physique

Safeguarding concerns

The report voices concern that more children witnessed incidents of domestic abuse during the pandemic and that increasing numbers might be taken into care as a result of safeguarding issues.

‘We heard about delays in young children’s development as a result of not being able to socialise with other children. And we heard about parents being forced to give up work to look after their children, with mothers in particular concerned about long-term damage to their career prospects as a result.'

One witness told the committee: ‘In a two-year-old’s life they have been locked down more than half their life. In a four-year-old’s it is 25 per cent. It is enormous; it is massive. I do not think we can underestimate it.’

We heard about parents who had been left to take “on the burden of doing physio, occupational therapy, [and] speech therapy” ... for their disabled children, as their pre-Covid packages of 24-hour support disappeared overnight [House of Lords]

In a key recommendation, the report notes: ‘We are particularly concerned at the lack of attention being given to the potential impact of the pandemic on infants and young children. While the long-term consequences for their physical, social and emotional development are unknown, there is emerging evidence of delayed learning and development amongst the most disadvantaged children, in particular.’

People with physical and mental health issues can help make changes

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s mental health network, said: ‘The impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of people across the country has been significant and the demand on services – already exceeding capacity before Covid-19 hit – has spiralled in the intervening two years. 

‘This report rightly emphasises the need for long-term approaches to policymaking in mental health. It also stresses the importance of ensuring those communities that experience both mental and physical health inequalities are actively engaged in creating systems that work for them.'

Mr Duggan added: ‘This is particularly critical in relation to mental health policy where those from black and minority ethnic communities routinely face worse access, experience and outcomes of care.’

Staff training gaps highlighted

We heard how too few teachers and health professionals have been trained in planning and delivering online lessons or in conducting consultations online (House of Lords]

Elsewhere, committee members say they discerned a ‘general trend’ towards delivering services online – even before the onset of the pandemic – and that many aspects of life will contain a ‘blur’ of online and offline activities in the future.

In a section that will resonate with many physiotherapists, they note: ‘As a result of the pandemic, more organisations have invested in the systems and infrastructure required and more of us have tried more aspects of online service delivery, and remote working and learning, and found there are aspects we want to keep.’

However, the report highlights the fact that many organisations were ill-prepared to respond to the pandemic and that some people suffered as a result. ‘We heard how too few teachers and health professionals have been trained in planning and delivering online lessons or in conducting consultations online.

‘It became obvious that many people lacked the skills and confidence to access services remotely: in an age where everything from job opportunities to social housing applications and the best consumer deals depend on internet use, this puts people at a significant disadvantage.’

The report makes a number of recommendations, which the committee said MPs should consider acting upon. These include:

  • how well both initial training and continuous professional development is preparing medical professionals and teachers to deliver online
  • whether patients’ rights need to be strengthened in relation to accessing both online and in-person health services
  • how digital healthcare interventions – in both physical and mental healthcare – are being approved and evaluated
  • the need for employment rights to ‘be suitable for the digital age’ (topics include new legislation to provide certain workers with defined and enhanced employment rights, consideration of a right to 'switch-off' and exploration of the use of workplace monitoring and surveillance)

     

To read the full report, visit: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/460/covid19-committee/publications

Author: Ian A McMillan
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