Impact of occupational therapist shortage in Perth and Kinross "both very upsetting and disappointing"

-Credit: (Image: Staff photographer: Richard Wilkins)

The impact of the shortage of occupational therapists (OTs) in Perth and Kinross has been described as "upsetting and disappointing".

Around 400 residents are awaiting aids and modifications to their homes to improve their quality of life.

Councillors have been told there are currently about the equivalent of 10 full-time OTs needed across both Perth Royal Infirmary (PRI) and the community.

A report outlining the current situation was presented to Perth and Kinross Council's Scrutiny and Performance Committee on Wednesday, June 12. The shortage has been flagged as a red risk due to "increased demand and staff vacancies".

The report - put before councillors for noting - stated the situation was "impacting on resilience and staff morale as well as on patient access to the service for those who have not been identified as a priority".

Liberal Democrat councillor Willie Robertson said: "The shortage of OTs is a really difficult problem and it's creating great distress for many people living in our communities, who cannot get their homes modified and it's affecting their quality of life.

"I know of a number of cases in this area where people have waited months and months and months and months - even though they're on a priority list - to even see an occupational therapist. I really think we need to get a grip on this.

"It just seems incredible that we've got to this stage. Once an OT arrives and assesses the person, then we've got to try and find the resources to put the modifications to their property in. I found this whole report both very upsetting and disappointing. This is not a criticism of Mr Ogilvy. It's just a very sad state of affairs."

Vice-convener Labour councillor Alasdair Bailey said: "There is some assurance in the report that things are improving."

Earlier in the meeting as councillors discussed the paper Perth and Kinross Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) interim head of services for Operational Management Kenny Ogilvy said: "The chief officer of the Health and Social Care Partnership has commissioned a review across the whole of our allied health professional provision across the partnership and that includes occupational therapy. That review is commencing shortly."

The review will be led by an experienced occupational therapist.

He later added: "There has been a massive increase in demand in recent years, as people know, with the ageing population. We need to make sure we are deploying our resources effectively and as efficiently as possible. Once we are clear of that we can then identify any gap - if there is any - and work out how we fill that gap."

Conservative councillor Keith Allan asked if they were "in a position of crisis" and how many unfilled OT vacancies there were.

Mr Ogilvy said: "It's not a crisis; it's certainly far from ideal. When we're fully staffed we're able to have OTs aligned to individual wards up at PRI. But we're no longer in a position to do that so are having to centralise the resource and allocate OTs depending on the level of need and level of risk across PRI.

"My understanding is there are 10 full-time equivalent (FTE) vacancies - that's across the whole partnership, that's not just for PRI. The situation has been exacerbated because a couple of vacancies have been held for the possible transfer of staff coming in from another service but that should be resolved imminently."

There are currently 400 people in the community waiting list for aids and adaptations. Mr Ogilvy said the waiting list was being managed by "reviewing the priority lists on an ongoing basis and where possible we allocate people an occupational therapist in terms of how long they've been on the list but we also review it in terms of need and people waiting are prioritised into one of three priorities".

He said that those who need an aid or adaptation for a critical daily activity such as toileting would be prioritised as priority one and were getting the equipment needed "within the appropriate timescale".

Mr Ogilvy said: "We have timescales to respond to priority ones and we are currently meeting those response times."

He added: "It's more your priority threes, e.g. people needing support with bathing aids, etc that are waiting longer and we're not meeting our timescales for that."