'She has more pain': Children with disabilities suffer after pool closure

14 October 2020

A Tasmanian mother of a child with a disability says it is “disgusting” a vital hydrotherapy pool has not been reopened since coronavirus lockdown.

Until February, the pool at the North West Regional Hospital (NWRH) was used by about 40 students from the North West Support School for hydrotherapy sessions to help build muscle tone and ease pain.

Despite restrictions on pools being relaxed, the facility at the Burnie hospital remains closed.

North West Support School Association chairwoman Jess Tabart said the health of her daughter, Shanika Thomas, has deteriorated since the pool closed.

The 12-year-old has cerebral palsy, and has been advised by her doctors and surgeons to undergo hydrotherapy sessions at least twice a week to help her walk.

“She needs a wheelchair to go long distances, but she’s gone backwards in the distance she’s able to walk,” Ms Tabart said.

“She has more pain, her muscles are tight … it’s her form of exercise.

Ms Tabart said a hydrotherapy pool was not something she should have to fight for in 2020.

“It should be there, it should be accessible. It’s a need.”

Nowhere to go

Portrait of physiotherapist Angela Diffley in BurniePortrait of physiotherapist Angela Diffley in Burnie
Physiotherapist Angela Diffley says hydrotherapy is a vital treatment.(ABC News: Erin Cooper)

The physiotherapist who oversees hydrotherapy with students at the support school, Angela Diffley, said the pool at the NWRH was the only one on the north-west coast suitable for the children.

Most other public and private pools are either too cold, do not have wheelchair access, or do not have change rooms suitable for children with disabilities.

The Tasmanian Health Service (THS) previously ran a hydrotherapy pool in Latrobe, but the lease has not been renewed and it is now closed.

Ms Diffley said the lack of a useable facility was harming the students’ health.

“For some children, being in the hydrotherapy pool is the only time they get to have independent movement, because all other times they’re either supported in their chair or have somebody else to support them,” she said.

“With hydrotherapy, you can get them working quite hard and they don’t even realise it because they’re having so much fun.”

‘Disadvantage by postcode’

Braddon Labor MP Anita Dow said support schools in the north and south of the state had their own dedicated on-site hydrotherapy pools, so the lack of facilities in the north-west amounted to “disadvantage by postcode”.

Ms Dow said the Government needed to be transparent with the community about its plans for the pool, which she believes is currently being used as a storage facility.

A THS spokesperson said it would reopen the pool as soon as it was safe to do so.

Burnie based 12 year-old Shanika Thomas and her assistance dog, TobyBurnie based 12 year-old Shanika Thomas and her assistance dog, Toby
Twelve-year-old Shanika Thomas has cerebral palsy and needs hydrotherapy to help her walk.(ABC News: Erin Cooper)

The spokesperson also said the service had purchased pool sessions in Devonport and Burnie, which are being provided free to inpatients needing hydrotherapy.

However, because students at the support school are not classified as THS clients, they are not eligible for those sessions.

Ms Tabart said more needed to be done.

“Shanika will need this treatment for the rest of her life and if we’re not meeting the needs of people now, there’s going to be a lot of repercussions with their medical conditions in the future, so it will end up costing the Government a lot more money,” she said.

“There needs to be inclusion.”

Main entrance of the North West Regional HospitalMain entrance of the North West Regional Hospital
The hydrotherapy pool at the North West Regional Hospital never reopened after lockdown.(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)

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