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People's health and the economy's wealth

5 July 2005 - 9:10am

Bristol woman wows Minister with maiden speech in the Commons

Bristol woman, Sandra Ounsworth, gave the 'best maiden speech I've ever heard' in the House of Commons on Wednesday (28 February), according to Department of Social Services Minister, Hugh Bayley MP.

Sandra, a former civil servant who sustained injuries in a car accident, gave a moving account of the emotional cost of being medically retired, and her experience of the Hope rehabilitation project in Bristol which was key in helping her get back to work.

She was speaking to MPs, health, and employment professionals, at a meeting organised by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy to highlight the importance of access to physiotherapy-led rehabilitation in returning people to work and maximising independence.

Nearly 60 delegates attended the meeting, which was also addressed by Hugh Bayley, and physiotherapy researcher Paul Watson.

Sandra, who now works at the City of Bristol College, said: 'Back pain is very isolating and depressing. Following my medical retirement, I began to think I must be unemployable.

'When you're at work the pain is like the radio - always there, but in the background. When you're out of work you get cocooned in your own dark world. I felt really low and down in the dumps. I felt useless and the pain was terrific.'

The meeting was part of the CSP's campaign 'Leading the Way to Healthier Lives', which highlights the economic and human costs of ill health. Back pain alone accounts for 119 million days of certified incapacity annually, consuming 12 million GP consultations and 800,000 in-patient days of hospital care, at a cost to the state of almost £0.5 billion each year. (1)

Sandra told the meeting she was initially sceptical about the Hope Project, but did not want to sit in her house alone. However, she said that by the second meeting, she was already realising the benefits of meeting other people in a similar situation and having professionals dedicated to helping.

She said: 'The Hope Project teaches you to think in steps - it improves your confidence and self esteem and makes you feel human again. It helped me get out of the house and back into the community. I do still have pain at a low level but I don't focus on it. When you're sat at home there is nothing else to do but focus on it. Getting back to work has made me feel human again.'

Paul Watson, research fellow at the University of Manchester, and honorary chair of the Physiotherapy Pain Association, told the meeting that chronic back pain need not be a diagnosis of long-term unemployment.

He said: 'At the moment, statistically, sufferers of back pain who have been unemployed for more than two years have very little chance of working again - usually assessed at around two per cent.

'However, this research, funded by the Department of Education and Employment, shows that chronic low back pain is not a barrier to re-employment, provided appropriate cross-agency support is given.'

The two-year study was successful in returning nearly 45 per cent of long-term unemployed back pain sufferers in the programme back to work. A further 25 per cent of people began voluntary work or work training.

The 'Back to Work' project, which includes active rehabilitation, job search training and counselling sessions, highlights the importance of exercise-based and behaviourally-focused rehabilitation programmes in returning people to normal activities, including work.

Hugh Bayley, Minister for the Department of Social Security, welcomed the research findings and outlined the Government's job retention initiative - a joint project led by three Government departments. It aims to test the relative effectiveness of different employment and health strategies to inform any longer-term decisions about investments in job retention services.

Mr Bayley said: 'This meeting could not have come at a better time. The bidding pack for Job Retention and Rehabilitation pilots has just been jointly issued by my Social Security Department, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment.

'Today we have heard about the success of the 'Back to Work' rehabilitation project. This demonstrates how important initiatives of this sort are in helping people with disabilities to get back to work. I am sure that the results of that work, supported by the employment service will persuade bidders to come forward with innovative ideas for pilot services.'

Describing the lack of current options for this patient group, Mr Bayley said: ' Incapacity benefit has been seen as a siding, a parking lot and we just dump people there. It is an enormous waste of human talent and an enormous waste to the taxpayer. Physiotherapy has an important part to play in providing an alternative for these people, as the most common problems are musculoskeletal.'

CSP chair of Council, and chairing the meeting, Natalie Beswetherick, said: 'Providing employees with prompt access to vocational rehabilitation is vital if back pain problems are to be treated effectively, or prevented from occurring in the first place.

'Physiotherapists, with their expertise in ergonomics and work-related ill-health, have a key role to play in the provision of vocational rehabilitation in both employment and healthcare settings.'

As part of the 'Leading the Way to Healthier Lives' campaign, the CSP is calling on the Government and employers to recognise the value of workplace physiotherapy in the fight against work-related ill health. The Society believes that prompt and equitable access to vocational rehabilitation is essential for all.


(1) Alan Milburn, the Government's Secretary of State for Health, speaking at the London School of Economics, March 2000.

Vocational rehabilitation is the comprehensive provision of occupational health, physiotherapy and stress-management services in the workplace.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is the professional, educational and trade union body for the country's 36,000 chartered physiotherapists, physiotherapy students and assistants. Physiotherapy is Britain's fourth largest health profession after medicine, nursing and midwifery

Media only - for further information please contact the press office on 020 7306 6616. 


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