The CSP and the National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society (NASS) have joined forces in a campaign to save the hydrotherapy pool at Royal Berkshire Hospital which is under threat of permanent closure at the end of June.
Local people’s rehabilitation is at risk, with them facing a long journey outside of the area to access this vital service.
The CSP and NASS are encouraging local people, patients, carers and others who are affected by the closure of the pool to write to their local Reading MPs Alok Sharma and Matt Rodda. The letter campaign, created by the CSP and NASS, asks Berkshire West CCG and the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust to halt the closure of the pool because of the damaging impact it might have for those who rely on its benefits.
The letter is simple for people to send – all they have to do is click on a web link, enter their name, address and postcode and it is then sent direct to their local MP.
Aquatic therapy in the hydrotherapy pool helps bring relief and rehabilitation to people with a range of long-term conditions including Parkinson’s, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypermobility, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and cerebral palsy. It is also used to rehabilitate people who have had joint replacements, strokes and brain damage. People with musculoskeletal conditions and babies also use the Royal Berkshire Hospital pool.
One patient describes how treatment in the pool has helped them:
The hydrotherapy pool at Reading kept me alive…keeping my body working well enough for two years to be independent and mobile. Since closure my condition has worsened.
The CSP and NASS are also appealing for people in the neighbouring counties of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire to send the letter to their MPs too. They are concerned that the decision in Berkshire could put access to other hydrotherapy pools in the region under threat as well.
CSP professional adviser Jane Mitchell said: 'The need for effective rehabilitation including good access to hydrotherapy has also become increasingly important as people recover from Covid-19 particularly in supporting recovery from symptoms such as chronic pain, fatigue and loss of exercise tolerance. It also helps support often relatively young patients, in the early stages of their recovery, towards regaining their quality of life where they can then continue with land based rehabilitation.'
Berkshire West CCG launched a consultation last year and despite approaching the CSP and other stakeholders, it chose not to listen to the CSP’s advice. As a result their funding decision has led to the proposed permanent closure of the pool.
The CCG is proposing a move to Individual Funding Arrangements (IFR). This is by its nature exclusive, as individuals have to prove they have exceptional need. The CSP believes this is a barrier to treatment that will widen existing health inequalities. As the NHS moves into the recovery phase of the pandemic to support patients, we would expect at this pivotal time that local systems should be actively promoting hydrotherapy services as an important part of rehabilitation services for patients. For too long patients have had to cope with their long term conditions at home during lockdown, with many experiencing a worsening of their symptoms as a result of a reduction in exercise and access to therapeutic services.
It seems a backward step therefore to tolerate the permanent closure of the Royal Berkshire hydrotherapy pool. Equally, continued closure is a missed opportunity for the CCG to explore expansion of access to the facility for more patient groups with long-term conditions who may benefit.”
NASS chief executive Dale Webb said: 'Hydrotherapy is a vital component to treating people with axial spondyloarthritis. Exercise is the most important thing that anyone living with the condition can do to manage and yet many cannot tolerate land based exercise or exercising in the cold water of swimming pools when they are having a flare of this debilitating form of arthritis.
'Denying access to hydrotherapy is denying patients those days where they may have reduced level of pain, and are able to have some sense of normal life. High pain levels are linked to high levels of mental health issues, which in turn can worsen symptoms. It is a vicious circle, and one that hydrotherapy can help to break. We urge local people to help save this important service and to join us in voicing these concerns to local MPs.'
Feedback from patients
Feedback from local patients demonstrates why the hydrotherapy pool in Reading is so important to them and why it needs to be saved from closure:
'If you close the pool, you will be stopping people’s recovery.'
'Since the hydrotherapy pool closed at Royal Berks, I have noticed a decrease in flexibility and increased pain levels. This increase in pain and decrease in mobility has meant I have had to increase the amount of medication I need to take to be able to function at work. I have also noticed an increase in my levels of depression and anxiety.'
'I have ankylosing spondylitis, fibromyalgia, degenerative spinal disease, osteoarthritis in various places, osteopenia and shoulder issues. This hydrotherapy is the only exercise I can do. I am potentially getting a hip replacement soon, but my other problems will remain so really need this.'
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