Plans to launch New Zealand’s first new physiotherapy school in 45 years are being welcomed by Physiotherapy New Zealand to help ease the national shortage of physiotherapists.

Wintec plans to start enrolling students in October for its new four year physiotherapy degree which – subject to final approval by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the New Zealand Physiotherapy Board – will get underway in the New Year.

Sandra Kirby, chief executive of the professional organisation Physiotherapy New Zealand, said there has been a long-term shortage of physiotherapists – particularly in rural areas like the East Coast, Southland and the West Coast.

Wintec says the proposed degree hopes to increase the number of Māori and Pacific physios and is offering a blended programme to support students, like second chance students, who may wish to study closer to home particularly across the five district health boards that make up the Midlands region – Waikato, Tairawhiti, Bay of Plenty, Lakes and Taranaki DHBs.

“For Physiotherapy New Zealand we welcome a third school and – provided it meets the required degree accreditation standards – if it is able to recruit and train more physiotherapists that must be a good thing for New Zealand,” said Kirby.

She said the current two physiotherapy schools, the University of Otago school in Dunedin and AUT in Auckland, were both oversubscribed and turned away potential students each year. Also in recent years virtually all of the about 200-225 new graduates registered each year have got a job within three months. In addition a similar number of overseas-educated physiotherapists are registered each year to help meet demand.

Dr Angela Beaton, Wintec’s director of Health and Social Practice said the programme has been developed in consultation with its communities and local providers, and it believed a third physiotherapy degree programme in the Waikato, offering the option of not having to move away from whānau commitments and support networks, would be welcomed. “To fulfil the demand for culturally responsive, work-ready physiotherapists across the Midland region, we have designed a programme where students can study closer to home, supported by a blend of on-campus, online and clinical education.”

Lianne Kohere, the facilitator of the Pou Manukura Kia Ora Hauora Midland programme that aims to support and promote health careers for Māori, has been helping develop the qualification which has a strong focus on the hauora philosophy of health and wellbeing.

She said with 26 per cent of the Midland region’s population identifying as Māori and 7.4 per cent as Pasifika, it was clear that the Wintec programme needed to not only be accessible and current but also culturally responsive.

Beaton said physiotherapy would add to the health and social practice professional programmes already offered at Wintec to help grow the workforce including interprofessional teaching and learning opportunities and clinical practice placements with providers across the region. Wintec also offers nursing, midwifery, occupational therapy, social work and counselling degrees.

There are currently about 5000 registered physiotherapists with annual practising certificates in New Zealand. Physiotherapy is on the immigration long-term skill shortage list and the latest online job statistics show there were 42 per cent more advertised job vacancies for physiotherapists in the three months to June 2018 than over the same period the previous year.

Dunedin was the first home of physiotherapy with the University of Otago opening a School of Massage in 1913 which evolved into the New Zealand School of Physiotherapy that opened in 1946. The Auckland School of Physiotherapy – the predecessor of the current AUT school – opened in 1972.

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