25 August 2021

Lockdown, hydrotherapy delay leaving arthritis sufferers in pain

| Dominic Giannini
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Canberrans with arthritis are suffering due to the lack of hydrotherapy treatments during lockdown. Photo: WikiCommons.

Delays in developing a fit-for-purpose hydrotherapy pool on Canberra’s southside have been met with disappointment and frustration, and fears “some [users] will die before the new pool is built”.

Arthritis ACT chief executive Rebecca Davies said that while participants had been using some other centres after the hydrotherapy pool at the Canberra Hospital closed, the lack of access and dedicated facilities act as a deterrent for many users.

“When we are not in lockdown, the biggest difficulty we had was the lack of appropriate pools and not being able to replace like for like when the Canberra Hospital pool closed,” she told Region Media.

Other pools do not have access ramps or hoists to help people in and out of the water, and centres are often cold and run down with no accessible changerooms or showering facilities.

“People are going home wet and that is not overly nice. When we are talking about people who are often at a frail age, it is just another imposition on them,” Ms Davies said.

“It is not an environment that is as welcoming as a dedicated hydrotherapy pool is for older people. It is not just about having a warm body of water.”

Some were able to use the hydro pool at Calvary John James Hospital, but due to demand pressures, participants can only access sessions twice a week, and Arthritis ACT cannot move everyone to the dedicated pool.

There were around 300 to 400 people constantly using the pool at the Canberra Hospital, some every day, and a further 600 categorised as regular users.

If Arthritis ACT were to bring everyone from Canberra’s southside to the dedicated facility, it would mean people could only access the already limited pool once every three to four weeks, Ms Davies said.

Current limitations accessing the hydro pool at John James mean that people can only attend twice a week at most.

“For a lot of people, it is just not enough,” Ms Davies said. “They need to come every second day as a minimum, or if not, every second day, just to keep themselves moving.

“It keeps them out of hospital, and it keeps them from aged care and needing so many other services.”

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This has now been exacerbated by the complete shutdown of hydro pools after Canberra’s delta outbreak, impacting the social benefits of hydrotherapy as well.

“I know some people who are rarely leaving home. They are riddled with pain, they have lost their daily exercise, they have lost their outlet and, for a lot of them, they have also lost their social network,” Ms Davies said.

“They would go to the pool and they were so well connected. I have seen those groups break up and they have lost that beautiful connection they had as a community. You cannot underestimate the impact of losing community on top of everything else.

“Some of them will die before the new pool is built and that breaks my heart as well. They will never get back to where they were.”

Arthritis ACT is trying to manage the thousands of people it treats for pain during the lockdown now that hydrotherapy is not a treatment option.

While free classes and exercises are being utilised to mitigate some of the pain sufferers feel, the outcome is less than ideal.

“We are working with members at the moment to try to distract them from their pain and keep them moving, which is what we did last year to get them through,” Ms Davies said.

“It is not a great outcome but it is better than nothing. You cannot do hydrotherapy in a lockdown period. It is too dangerous.”

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The future for the southside hydro pool remains uncertain.

“We are now 18 months down the track of closing the pool and we are only just getting to budget bid stages for the costing of the pool. The lack of transparency is really starting to annoy people,” Ms Davies said.

“They still cannot tell me how much it will cost to use the pool or how much it will cost to run the pool. They already run a hydrotherapy pool. They should know all this and have not worked any of this out.

“We should have almost had a pool by now. For people living on the south side of Canberra, they should be incredibly disappointed that this is where we are at, at this point in time.”

For more information about Arthritis ACT and hydrotherapy, visit Arthritis ACT.

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