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A record high in vacant physiotherapy jobs across Northern Ireland is threatening patient care, says The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP).

The organisation is now calling on the Department of Health to increase the number of physiotherapy undergraduate places in Northern Ireland and sustainable funding for staff recruitment across all physiotherapy grades.

More than 15 percent of physiotherapy roles in Northern Ireland are vacant, meaning patients with conditions from long COVID to strokes are missing out on vital rehabilitation, the organisation warned.

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The latest official figures from the Department of Health show 196 physiotherapy vacancies across all grades – the highest number ever recorded by the department.

Commenting on the latest workforce census figures, Claire Ronald, Senior Negotiating Officer for The CSP in Northern Ireland, said: “It is welcome that the number of physiotherapists employed across all Health and Social Care Trusts has increased by 89 over the past year. However, with the highest ever recorded number of physiotherapy vacancies, it is clear we do not have the necessary numbers to meet current and future demand.”

The CSP is calling on the Department of Health to increase student physiotherapy numbers and invest in physiotherapy careers as a matter of urgency in order to help reverse the rising gap in workforce supply.

Ronald added: ‘It is disappointing that the Department of Health has decided not to increase the number of undergraduate training places for NI this year. We currently produce approximately 60 physiotherapy graduates each year. That is nowhere near enough the number required to fill the vacancies here.

“In addition to increasing the number of undergraduate places for physiotherapy the health system also desperately needs to see additional recurrent funding for staff recruitment across all physiotherapy grades.

“All of the service commitments the Department of Health made in 2020/21 are still being funded non-recurrently and this continues to have a detrimental impact on the ability of Trusts to recruit and retain the physiotherapy staff needed to deliver the services required.”

Ronald warned that if urgent action is not taken, then this will have a huge impact on waiting list times and rebuilding services post-pandemic.

He continued: “For example, the physiotherapy workforce is key to reforming orthopaedic pathways, identified as a priority in the recently published Elective Care Framework for tackling waiting times in NI, which are the longest in the UK.”

At the beginning of 2021, The CSP called for all integrated care systems (ICSs) to include senior-level rehabilitation leads within their structure.

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