A group of physiotherapists in Northern B.C. has been advocating for an increased number of physiotherapists in the region.
According to the group, seven per cent of physiotherapists in B.C. work in rural communities, and yet 15 per cent of the population live in rural areas. They say the shortfall in Northern B.C. is even greater.
The group recently sent out a letter to the board of directors of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako saying that 86 registered physiotherapists serve 3500 people in Northern B.C. (one per 4069 per capita) compared with 3251 physiotherapists serving a population of 4,251,000 in the remainder of B.C (one per 1307).
“This represents a more than three-fold difference in availability of physiotherapists,” said Hilary Crowley, a physiotherapist from the Prince George area who used to work in Burns Lake.
Total Physio closed its doors in Burns Lake in July 2016. So now Burns Lake only has one physiotherapist available through Northern Health to serve the region.
According to Crowley, one physiotherapist is not enough for Burns Lake.
“Burns Lake would also provide services to Southside, Grassy Plains, Topley and more,” explained Crowley. “Physiotherapy services are needed in residential care, early intervention for young children as well as hospital and community services; one physiotherapist cannot provide all these services.”
Early intervention services for vulnerable children in Burns Lake is presently being provided by Smithers.
“It is important that we don’t leave a gap in physiotherapy services for children with delayed development, since early intervention makes a critical difference in the future of children’s ability to function and develop life skills,” said Crowley.
“There are communities in the north without any physiotherapist such as Fort St. James, McBride, Valemount and Tumbler Ridge,” she added. “Fort St. James and Fraser Lake receive services from Vanderhoof, which only has one physiotherapist.”
Andrea Palmer, a spokesperson for Northern Health, said Northern Health acknowledges that there is a lack of physiotherapists in Northern B.C. and it is “aggressively recruiting” more physiotherapists in the region.
However, Crowley believes the best way to address the shortage of physiotherapists in the north is by providing training in Northern B.C. Currently, the University of British Columbia is the only physical therapy training program in the province, graduating 80 physiotherapists annually.
The letter to the regional district urged the board to support 20 more physiotherapy seats to be located in the north. The letter says the University of Northern British Columbia is currently equipped with a physiotherapy lab that is capable of hosting a physiotherapy program.
“Students trained in the north are far more likely to stay in the north,” said Crowley.
“This allows students to live and experience work in rural communities and increase supply for the existing vacancies, thereby improving the overall access to physiotherapy for many more rural and northern British Columbians.”