The Wokingham Paper

Fibro group push to save Royal Berkshire Hospital’s hydrotherapy pool

Debra Langley and her son Dominic, who acts has her carer

A MUM is fighting to save the Royal Berkshire Hospital’s treatment pool which she says makes a huge difference to the life of herself and others.

Debra Langley, 53, from Wokingham, has fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. She is also epileptic.

She said physio sessions in the RBH hydrotherapy pool give her blessed relief, reducing her pain and stiffness – and making her happier.

Now Ms Langley fears a new public consultation into the pool’s future will end with the pool, closed since March due to Covid-19, shutting forever.

She and fellow members of Reading and District Fibromyalgia Group’s hydrotherapy section are campaigning to keep the pool which they hire for sessions.

Ms Langley says she and her friends are “a lot of stiffer and not as mobile” since the pool’s Covid closure.

“My pain levels are higher now,I have more flare ups,” said Ms Langley. She feels hydrotherapy has benefits over land based physio:

“A physiotherapist comes into the water to show us different movements to help us. The water, which is warm, supports your body. In the pool I can exercise parts I can’t otherwise.

“I can do twists: I wouldn’t dream of doing them on land, it hurts too much. The difference is quite remarkable, and it’s lovely. My body gets looser, not so stiff.”

Her son Dominic, 16, a former St Crispin’s School pupil going onto Reading College, is her young carer and sees his mum change after hydrotherapy.

“He tells me I’m happier because I’m not hurting so much,” she said.

Ms Langley, a former administrator, also has carers to help her shower.

Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group (BWCCG) hydrotherapy services currently provided at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. The group is consulting the public, until Monday, November 2, about the future provision of hydrotherapy. The group’s governing body will discuss the survey results, in public, on Tuesday, December 8.

Reading and District Fibromyalgia Group’s hydrotherapy section hire the pool for about 72 hours a year which equates to 500 patient hours of treatment a year. Members pay for all their private treatment costs, both for the pool hire and the cost of physiotherapists.

Section representative Ian Smith claimed: “The consultation is an effort to try to close the pool. They tried to close it a couple of years ago.”

But a petition had helped stop the plan.

He added: “I believe they are using the Covid closure as a perfect opportunity to have the review and try to shut down the pool. The [pool] is not being managed properly, it’s not advertised enough. I don’t know if all GPs know there is one in the area.”

And he added: “If hydrotherapy is withdrawn how many additional appointments will be made to GPs, pain management consultants and others?” he asked.

Mr Smith said he had followed his GP and physios’ advice about his initial fibromyalgia treatment but eventually could hardly walk.

“The physios and GP then prescribed me an NHS course of hydrotherapy and that was the start of my improvement. I still suffer great problems, I’m disabled and have a Blue Badge. Hydro arranged under our private hire allows me to be as good as I can be. Land based physiotherapy wipes me out,” he said.

Out of 107,000 physiotherapy appointments BWCCG commissions each year, around 1,800 (1.7%) are for NHS hydrotherapy, it said. Land-based physio normally costs £22 to £45 a time and hydrotherapy around £150, it added. Hydrotherapy is used to treat conditions including arthritis, muscular skeletal and neurological conditions.

BWCCG states that the National Institute for Care Excellence does not recommend hydrotherapy over conventional physio for any condition.

The group acknowledges that despite a “lack of definitive clinical evidence, it is recognised that some clinicians and patients believe there is a therapeutic benefit for certain patients.

It’s shown to improve mobility, strengthen muscles, increase circulation and help movement in some painful joints.”

A BWCCG spokesperson said the group had a responsibility to ensure services it commissioned were fit for purpose, to provide appropriate healthcare for the benefit of as many as possible and ensure NHS resources were spent prudently.

The spokesman added: “We are therefore holding a statutory three-month public consultation to allow all interested parties to contribute to the discussion on the future of commissioning hydrotherapy in Berkshire West.

“The consultation paper and questionnaire give very detailed information about the number of NHS patients prescribed hydrotherapy services in Berkshire West and the facts regarding the costs of these services compared to land based physiotherapy. There’s also wider information … to allow for open and informed input into the consultation.

“Covid has forced the closure of the hydrotherapy service since March and it’s likely to remain this way for a considerable period of time to minimise the number of patients accessing services at the Royal Berkshire Hospital which is an acute hospital site.

“This is vital to maintain safe social distancing and limit footfall to the site to keep patients and staff properly protected.

“Given the open-ended nature of the pandemic, the CCG agreed that this is an appropriate time to examine future options for commissioning hydrotherapy services.”

The consultation is available at www.berkshirewestccg.nhs.uk/hydrotherapy

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