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70 per cent of occupational therapists (OTs) are not currently able to provide adequate occupational therapy that children and young people need, a survey carried out by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) has found.

Some of the key barriers cited for this significant figure include restricted access to schools; workforce issues, including understaffed teams; increased demand for occupational therapy and a backlog of cases; and family concerns, or struggles to access telehealth or face-to-face support.

Other key findings are that:

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  • Just under two-thirds of occupational therapists have encountered schools that are reluctant to allow therapists to visit
  • Of these, 83 percent had encountered reluctance from mainstream schools and 48 percent from special schools.
  • Workforce pressures are a significant factor when it comes to being able to provide therapy support, with over half of the respondents reporting understaffing

Commenting on the survey results, Steve Ford, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, added: “Occupational therapists have played a vital role in helping people recover from the pandemic, and this includes working on a daily basis with children and young people across Northern Ireland.

“The pandemic has proved a huge challenge for children and young people over the past year and a half.

“Whether dealing with loss of education or the mental health crisis as they return to education children and young people need as much support as possible, including that offered by occupational therapists. These survey results are truly concerning, and with over 70 per cent of respondents reporting an increase in demand, we need the provision, funding and workforce to be fit for the future and deliver for the children and young people of Northern Ireland.”

RCOT recently met with Vicky Ford, Minister of State for Children and Families, to discuss access to therapies, and will continue to work with governments across the UK to address the findings of the survey.

In March 2021, the college called on the Welsh Government to prioritise occupational therapy as part of COVID recovery. It called on the government to: legislate to ensure a streamlined approach to housing adaptations; support a healthy and fit workforce, ensuring organisations think about the wellbeing of the workforce; ensure the right to rehabilitation; and deliver parity between health and social care.

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