Shortage of physios sparks warning

Local | Sum Lok-kei Jun 19, 2017
A manpower shortage projection on the physiotherapy sector has seriously underestimated future demand, say physiotherapist groups.

The projection done for the government indicated that Hong Kong could see a shortage of 933 physiotherapists by 2030. But two unions and a pressure group from the physiotherapy sector said yesterday the figure is a serious underestimation.

While the groups cannot give the exact number of therapists needed by 2030, they said the present ratio of about one physiotherapist to 2,500 residents is much lower than the one to 1,344 in Britain.

Eleanor Chan Wong-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Physiotherapists' Union, said the manpower shortage and heavy workload has damaged therapists' morale and reduced their job satisfaction.

"We're always trying to meet a quota," Chan said. "Some experienced therapists may lose satisfaction in their jobs, feeling unable to help the patients."

This had led to the loss of manpower from non-governmental organizations and public hospitals to private institutions. The therapists also slammed the government's suggestion that institutions should provide more self-funded programs.

Ma Wui-lung from the pressure group Physio Action said it is not certain if students of self-funded programs would pass the registration process of the Physiotherapists Board as there is no clear guideline on how the board may judge the programs.

If students fail to be accredited after investing tens of thousands of dollars in self-funded programs, new issues will arise, Ma said.

The groups demanded the University Grants Commission fund more programs and increase the student intake each year.

Hong Kong Polytechnic University is the only provider of commission- funded courses in physiotherapy, and Physio Action's convener, Lit Ming- wai, said there can be competition if more universities provide similar programs.

If one to two universities start their own programs and each provides about 50 places a year, the manpower shortage can be alleviated in the future, the groups said.

There are 2,945 registered physiotherapists in Hong Kong, but some had retired and a portion no longer practice locally.

Speaking on a televised program, the dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Hong Kong University, Gabriel Leung, said people can discuss the implications of the report, and assured the information included was accurate and scientific.

The scholars involved had no reason to be biased, he said, but the government should explain better why the study was done based on the current standard of service.

"Honestly, with today's service level and quality, it cannot meet the demand of Hongkongers," Leung said, adding that the waiting time in many specialist clinics is long.

That said, Leung reminded that resources in the public sector are limited. As for the industries with sufficient manpower, such as pharmacists, the authority should seek to improve service quality, he said.

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June 2017