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Wilson: Therapist shortage ‘unacceptable’

Shadow health minister Kim Wilson has described the shortage in school therapists for the new school year as “totally unacceptable”.

The Department of Health Therapy Services, which provides early intervention screening and other programmes helping about 1,200 children each year, said in a press release that it is being adversely affected by staff departures.

The personnel include occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech language therapists.

Ms Wilson said: “It is my understanding that there has been a shortage of therapists for some time with students going without therapy or certain schools not being serviced. The shortage has been compounded with the recent hiring freezes of therapists positions, as therapists are being told they will no longer have a job at the end of their work permit. Therefore, with the uncertainty of employment, the current therapists are wrapping up their affairs with government for a more secured employment plan.

“This lack of planning is totally unacceptable and is a situation which needs to be planned for and addressed as there are many children who require and benefit from therapeutic services in the school system to assist the students to achieve goals. Many parents can share their stories of inconsistency and lack of therapeutic services in the school system which is detrimental in the long term. Time is short already, we should not allow our students to fall short due to shortsighted planning and lack of coordination.”

Waiting lists for therapy are now expected to grow as the department pushes to recruit more people.

Health minister Jeanne Atherden issued a statement sympathising with parents and students.

“As the Minister of Health, I recognise that this is a less than ideal situation and strongly sympathise with those parents and students affected but the Ministry is doing its best to resolve this challenge as soon as possible,” she said.