Many years ago, I was one of the first of the new student reps to attend the CSP’s annual Congress. Back then Billy Bragg was railing against the Miner’s Strike and the IR department of the CSP reigned supreme. It became obvious pretty quickly that people took Congress really seriously. The first motion I remember being discussed was a levy on member’s fees to raise funds for Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters. Sadly the motion went no further after being referred to Council, where it ended up disappearing like gold in the San Juan rivershed.
Not long after the Congress I attended an Association for Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care meeting and was dismayed to hear the keynote presenter stating that she was proud to think that physiotherapy was not a ‘political’ profession.
Physiotherapists have always had a difficult relationship with activism, but it has always seemed to me to be a profession in a prime position to take a stand on inequality, injustice and oppression. Our work often brings us into contact with some of the poorest people in our society; our practice centres on disability; we are female dominated; and we have at our disposal extraordinary social capital in the form of mana, public trust, and the respect of the medical profession and the state.
Physiotherapists ought to be more politically active than they are, particularly these days when so many health care initiatives are increasing the distance between those who have and those who have not.
While it’s understandable to argue that our focus should be on increasing our own professional security and power base, and to believe that we need to put our energies into promoting ourselves and raising our own professional profile, doing so risks focusing our attention inwards and forgetting the people in our communities that need our help. And physiotherapists can offer much more than just their clinical/technical skills.
The simple fact is that when health professionals like physiotherapists talk, people listen.
Armed with our knowledge of health and health care, activity and movement, exercise physiology and prescription, touch-based therapies, and a host of other knowledges, skills and attitudes, physiotherapists are in an ideal position to lobby for improvements in things that have a direct impact on people’s health and wellbeing. Things like people’s living conditions, access to services, housing improvements, safe and accessible public spaces, and ability to be heard, never mind the improvements that could be made to the organisation and design of existing and innovative health care services.
Perhaps, then, it is time for physiotherapists to lift their eyes from the body of the person in front of them, and start to take a more active role in the world that our patients return to after their 30 minutes with you is over.