Speeches

Speech by Mr Tim O’Malley, TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the launch of the “Limerick Physiotherapy Research Hub” in the University of Limerick

First of all I would like to extend congratulations to the Department of Physiotherapy here in the University of Limerick on being awarded the status of first Irish Physiotherapy Research Hub and being the first Irish University to be part of the National Physiotherapy Research Network developed by the UK Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

I am very pleased to have been asked by the Department of Physiotherapy to launch the “Limerick Physiotherapy Research Hub” and would like to wish you success with the initiative. It is an exciting development both at a national and local level and credit is due to the Department for working to establish the hub, which I understand is the first of its kind in Ireland. I can see that this is an important development for physiotherapy research and would like to acknowledge the work done by Dr. Susan Coote to bring this project to fruition. I would also like to say that the full support of the Head of this Department, Dr. Anne Taylor and the input of Professor Anne Moore was crucial in bringing you to this point today.

I understand that the broad aim of the National Physiotherapy Research Network is to encourage and facilitate the engagement of physiotherapists nationally in research activity both at a professional and inter-professional level and, as part of the network, The Limerick Research Hub will draw on the research and clinical expertise within the physiotherapy department at UL to offer support for novice researchers to facilitate their development as principal investigators.

I endorse the broad aims of the network which will, I believe:

  • increase the numbers involved in research and also the amount of research produced here in Ireland;
  • allow integration of research into practice;
  • provide a mutually supportive network for researchers;
  • provide a “joined-up” approach; and
  • increase the profile of Irish research internationally which is currently of a very high standard.

The success of the hub will be of benefit to physiotherapy professionals providing services in many settings as well as those engaged in education and it is important for the development of the profession that the initiative is successful.

Bacon Training Places

In launching the research hub here today I would like to pay tribute to how far you have all come in the journey to establish the physiotherapy department in UL. It was only in 2002 that the then Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Education and Science announced the new course in physiotherapy here, in effectively a greenfield site in terms of health education in the region. The announcement, part of a significant development for the therapy professions, was followed by tremendous efforts by the university, the local HSE and not least the new academic staff in the department itself culminating in the first cohort of physiotherapy graduates this year. When the final year students graduate in June it will have been a significant achievement for all concerned.

The high standards attained by the final year students is, I think, reflected here today in an important way. I congratulate the Department on using this opportunity to showcase the final year research projects of the first cohort of students to go through the course and would like to say that the quality of the research is apparent from the posters on view. The first intake of students to complete a course such as this are in a unique position and I hope that, after graduation, you will continue to maintain your links with UL.

Clinical Placements

As you are all aware one of the challenges in establishing this course on a greenfield site has been to ensure that sufficient clinical placements are available to the students and in recognising this challenge the relevant stakeholders worked with the Department of Health and Children and local health service management to put in place a strategy. That strategy was outlined in the Report of the National Planning Group on Clinical Placement Provision for Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy and Physiotherapy.

The report sets out a comprehensive Action Framework to address the clinical placement issue and I am pleased to say that the partnership approach adopted by all has led to significant funding being allocated both by the Department of Health and Children and the HSE to expand the clinical training structures.

I am aware of the significant involvement of the physiotherapy department here, both in the policy formulation and ongoing implementation of the initiative and would like to acknowledge your valuable input.

Clinical Placement Research

In seeking to formulate a policy for clinical placements the National Planning Group highlighted a major requirement for the building of a strong and robust evidence base related to a broad range of important issues closely related to the development of clinical training. It emerged through the group’s work that this research is essential in order to ensure that proposals for the future development of the clinical training system are fully informed and guided by the best available evidence and information.

The report recommends a comprehensive research agenda which the Department of Health and Children and the HSE has strongly supported through the establishment of a project office within the HSE. Its remit is to research models of best practice for clinical training and will significantly enhance the structures currently being expanded.

The project office has been funded by the Health Service Executive on a one year basis initially and it is intended to begin recruiting staff for research posts in three therapy professions including physiotherapy within the next few months. It is envisaged that this development will provide an invaluable support to those engaged in the provision of physiotherapy clinical training.

Health Research Board Project

Therapy research in this country is at an early stage of development, but I believe the future is very bright given the strong academic record of persons in the professions, the establishment of the new Therapy Schools over the last 3 to 4 years, and indeed the very high levels of motivation and commitment demonstrated by many therapists to date pursuing research. Evidence of this can already be seen with the number of Therapists pursuing MScs and PhDs.

The Department of Health and Children through its Therapy Advisory Unit is actively seeking to broaden the therapy research agenda and with the allocation, this year, of funding amounting to €300,000 to the Health Research Board. The Board recognise the potential contribution of the Therapy professions and is eager to work with them to build capacity and I am glad to say that significant progress is being made in this regard. The Therapy Advisory Unit has been working closely with the Health Research Board to target that funding in the most effective way and the Board is now in a position to invite applications, which have recently been advertised, for a new initiative entitled “Research Fellowships for the Therapy Professions”.

The purpose of this scheme is to provide an opportunity for experienced therapy professionals to conduct research in Ireland, leading to a postgraduate degree at masters or doctoral level. The research conducted should have as its objective the identification of findings which can impact on therapy practice and applications have been invited from six professional groups including physiotherapy.

Developments and the need for Physiotherapists

Fostering the research agenda will have substantial benefits for the professionals delivering services and indeed for the way services themselves are structured. Over the last few years we have seen expansions in the numbers employed and in the services they provide. In physiotherapy alone the numbers of professionals in 2005 increased by 40% since 2002.

It is likely that this upward trend will continue with a range of further service development in the pipeline in the areas of Primary Care, Disability and in Services for Older People. This will inevitably mean an expansion of physiotherapy professionals in these areas and for resources and services to be effectively targeted the availability of good quality research is essential.

Conclusion

In conclusion I would like to thank the Department of Physiotherapy and UL for the opportunity to launch this important development and would again like to extend my congratulations on a job well done and to wish all those involved every success in this venture.

Thank you.