The announcement that the autism clinic being set up at the Institute of Child Health will have an occupational therapist has brought only minimal satisfaction to therapists in the city. These professionals say they are graded as technicians even though they are part of core medical team treating patients.

Ideally, an occupational therapist (OT) must be part of the team that treats patients in the orthopaedics, neurology and paediatrics departments. But even large corporate hospitals appoint just one therapist for the entire institution.

In response to an RTI query raised in November 2012 by the Occupational Therapist Federation of Tamilnadu, the Directorate of Medical Education has said that it had created one post for an OT in each of the newly-opened 11 hospitals across the State and that candidates would be recruited through the employment exchange.

The list of vacancies in existing government hospitals, however, is long.

M. Munivel, co-convenor of the federation, said of the 17 vacancies in government-run hospitals, 16 are in institutions under the Directorate of Medical Education (DME) and one is under the Directorate of Medical and Rural Health Services.

Even the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), which five years ago established a unit for occupational therapy has not appointed an OT so far. When this issue was raised in an RTI, the DME’s reply states that a post for occupational therapist has been created at the IMH but no one has been employed as yet.

While big hospitals are found wanting, some small and niche organisations offer the services of occupational therapists. They develop training modules for patients based on their abilities to independently carry on their daily living activities.

“We counsel our patients, involve them in activities and motivate them to complete a task. A physiotherapist will mobilise the limb but an occupational therapist will provide a goal and give the patient a meaningful task. The cognitive and physical outcome of this helps in their daily living,” explained V.S. Deepak, a therapist with Global Hospital.

N. Sasikala, a senior therapist with a private organisation treating persons with mental illnesses said, “We can train patients in self-care, provide group therapy and vocational training. They must be given jobs that keep them involved.” She added that a mentally ill person can be made employable with adequate training.

Lack of awareness about occupational therapy is the reason hospitals rarely employ them, said Mr. Deepak. While therapists get some recognition in the private sector, both the Central and State governments have relegated them to the posts of technicians.

According to V. Vanchinathan, who provides therapy for children with attention problems at a private organisation, the government could become a model by setting up a dedicated institute for OT.

“The government could make a beginning by setting up an institute for occupational therapy at Madras Medical College,” he said.

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