Singapore Government Press Release
SPEECH BY MR LIM HNG KIANG, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SECOND MINISTER FOR FINANCE, AT THE OPENING OF THE INAUGURAL INTERNATIONAL PHYSIOTHERAPY CONFERENCE OF THE WORLD CONFEDERATION FOR PHYSICAL THERAPY ASIA WESTERN PACIFIC REGION ON FRIDAY 20 JULY 2001 AT 2.00 PM AT THE SUNTEC CONVENTION CENTRE
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am pleased to join you for the opening of the inaugural International Physiotherapy Congress of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy, Asia Western Pacific Region. This is the first time that an International Physiotherapy Congress has been organised in this Region, and it is an honour for Singapore to host this important event. I would like to congratulate the Singapore Physiotherapy Association for successfully producing a stimulating congress programme that covers a wide range of important topics in physiotherapy and which provides a platform for educators, researchers and clinicians from the region to discuss and share their ideas, research and clinical experiences.
GLOBAL IMPACT OF PHYSIOTHERAPY
Although the use of certain techniques of physiotherapy goes back to ancient times, the modern profession of physiotherapy only developed in the twentieth century, in the wake of World War I. Physiotherapists, at that time, were trained to work with soldiers returning from the war and to institute early rehabilitation for wounded veterans. For those who can remember the polio epidemics in the 1950s, physiotherapists played an important role in helping thousands of sufferers by reducing and coping with the paralyzing effects of the disease. Today, physiotherapists provide treatment to more than 1 million people of all ages every day, in almost every part of the world.
PHYSIOTHERAPY IN SINGAPORE
Physiotherapy was first introduced in Singapore in 1941, with the setting up of the Surgical Physiotherapy Department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Two British expatriates accounted for all physiotherapists here up till 1955, when the Singapore Government began providing scholarships for selected local individuals to pursue physiotherapy studies overseas. Today, there are 350 physiotherapists in practice locally. Physiotherapy is provided in all Singapore hospitals and special schools, in most nursing homes, day care centers and within the Singapore Sports Council and the Singapore Armed Forces.
Physiotherapists play important roles in the prevention and rehabilitation of functional disabilities that may occur after a stroke, heart attack, hip fracture or surgical operation. They also contribute significantly to the success of our national disease management programmes, including those for stroke, coronary heart disease, diabetes and childhood developmental disabilities. In the management of stroke, for example, physiotherapists are important members of Stroke Teams, which are multi-disciplinary, in-hospital teams that manage the stroke patient during hospitalisation, with the aim of optimising functional recovery. Physiotherapists are involved in formulating rehabilitation plans and assist in the recovery process by helping patients to regain use of an affected limb or to relearn activities of daily living such as walking, dressing, or bathing. Because recovery does not end for patients as soon as they are discharged from hospital, physiotherapists also teach patients and their families what to do so that recovery can continue through self-care at home, and assist by identifying possible safety issues in the home like poor lighting and slippery surfaces.
INCREASING DEMAND FOR PHYSIOTHERAPISTS
The demand for physiotherapy services in Singapore will continue to grow in the coming years, especially with an ageing population, better medical and surgical care and more patients with posture-related problems like lower back pain as a result of increasingly sedentary work. Increased public awareness about the rehabilitative benefits of physiotherapy, for example following sports injuries and surgery, will also raise demand for these services. This high demand has made physiotherapy a popular career choice. The Nanyang Polytechnic School of Physiotherapy currently trains 25 physiotherapy students per year, which they select from a list of 100 to 120 applicants annually. The Singapore Government continues to provide overseas physiotherapy scholarships to outstanding students, while a number of Singaporeans pursue Physiotherapy training on their own overseas.
CHALLENGES FACING LOCAL PHYSIOTHERAPISTS TODAY
The physiotherapist of today faces a number of challenges. Firstly, the practice of physiotherapy has become more sophisticated and complicated. Physiotherapists now make use of new electrophysical agents like ultrasound and lasers in their treatment of patients. Physiotherapists today also treat patients with multiple and more complex medical problems.
It is critical that the physiotherapy profession responds appropriately and positively to these new developments. A key component of this response should be the continued upgrading of knowledge and skills through formal study in degree, Masters and doctoral programmes, as well as participation in continuing education activities. In this respect, I am happy to note that the Singapore Physiotherapy Association has taken the initiative to provide and coordinate continuing education for all physiotherapists. I hope that the Association will continue to provide professional leadership for the physiotherapy profession and organise activities that will not only maintain high standards of physiotherapy, but also increase the publicís awareness of physiotherapy.
Secondly, there is greater emphasis on research and development activities. With the drive towards evidence-based medical practice, scientific demonstration of the effectiveness of physiotherapy and rehabilitation programmes, through randomised clinical trials, will be necessary. As such, there will be a need for greater involvement of physiotherapists in research. Physiotherapists can also contribute to life sciences research and development in areas such as biomechanical engineering and robotics sciences through application of their knowledge of rehabilitative technology and human movement sciences.
Thirdly, we have realised that prevention is often better and cheaper than cure. Because physiotherapists are experts in movement and function, they should also direct their talents to preventing injury and loss of movement. For example, they can help improve the design of the workplace and reduce the risk of workers overusing certain muscles or developing low back pain. Physiotherapists can also take on an enlarged role in advising and developing appropriate exercise programmes for both normal and disease populations, thus helping to prevent injury while harnessing the protective effects of exercise against chronic morbidities such as coronary artery disease, osteoporosis and diabetes.
The topics in this congress cover what is new and latest in the use of electrophysical agents and rehabilitation of whiplash injury and low back pain, amongst others. I am sure that all delegates will benefit tremendously from the sessions and will find them most rewarding. For those from overseas, I hope that you will find time to enjoy some of the exciting sights and sounds of our Island City, and that your stay here will be memorable and enjoyable.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to declare this Congress open.