Five takeaways from our ‘Back to the Future’ Rehabilitation Conference

March 9, 2016

On the 25th February we co-hosted the ‘Back to the Future’ Rehabilitation Conference alongside Potter Rees Dolan and Pace Rehabilitation at The Lowry Hotel, where amputees, surgeons, therapists, charities, manufacturers and legal specialists gathered to discuss the challenges facing amputees, as well as the amazing strides being made to eradicate those challenges.

More than 70 delegates attended and were treated to numerous knowledgeable and engaging speakers sharing with us their expertise and insight.

So, what did we learn from the speakers on the day? Below, we  share the main themes that were discussed by the attending experts:

1. Amputees are as dissatisfied with their prostheses as they were in 1950

Professor Saeed Zahedi OBE, from leading rehabilitation provider Blatchfords, provided us with a fantastic level of insight into how the company aims to develop the first fully integrated limb system based on a ‘biomimetic’ design that mimics how a human muscle works.

This integrated limb system will consist of a microprocessor, pneumatics, hydraulics, bluetooth, Motion Integrated Intelligence and much more. However, despite these amazing feats of engineering and technology, a wider range of prosthesis options for amputees and increasing budgets, Professor Zahedi revealed that just over one-third of amputees are dissatisfied with their prosthesis today – almost exactly the same proportion of dissatisfied amputees as in 1950.

He explained that comfort remains the biggest reason for their dissatisfaction, but was confident that engineers and manufacturers are getting very close to being able to offer significantly greater levels of comfort that will considerably improve the happiness of prosthesis users.

2. The legal system is letting down amputees

Gerard Martin QC from Exchange Chambers kicked off the day by talking about how the legal system currently doesn’t do enough to support amputees and ensure they are compensated sufficiently for their life-changing injuries.

He explained that there is a lack of awareness and understanding among many legal professionals, the courts and insurers regarding the challenges facing amputees and the latest developments in prosthetics. This can mean amputees are unable to get a future-proof prosthesis that takes into account their lifestyle and physiological changes over time.

3. Therapy is extremely important

One of the main themes of the day was the importance of therapy – be it physiotherapy or occupational therapy – to amputees.

Two experts from Pace Rehabilitation, Carolyn Hirons, chartered physiotherapist, and Kay McArthur, HCPC registered occupational therapist, gave compelling talks that showed us how the slightest nuances and physical changes can have a huge impact on the life of an amputee.

Both paid tribute to the huge technical advances that have been made in prosthetics over the past few years, but were at pains to explain that, even with the most cutting-edge, top-of-the-range prostheses, users need physiotherapy and occupational therapy to get the most out of this amazing technology.

To illustrate their point, they said “you wouldn’t give a state-of-the-art car to someone who can’t drive and expect them to know what to do”.

4. Carers and families need more support

One of the key themes of the day was that carers and families of amputees need a lot more support than is currently on offer.

ACSIL, a charity that offers free and confidential support in the Liverpool and Merseyside area, spoke passionately about the role that carers play in helping their loved ones recover after an amputation. In many cases, carers are an afterthought as the main focus is on the patient’s recuperation, and carers can be “pushed to one side”. But understanding their challenges and working with the carer can have dramatic results on the recovery of the patient, ACSIL explained. Small steps to make everyday life that bit easier can have a big impact, and the organisation explained that it recently used a portion of its funds to adapt chairs used to take groups of amputees fishing. This seemingly small act meant that amputees could enjoy some time out of the house, giving carers a break and keeping the group physically and mentally active.

The charity also urged the NHS to keep developing the standard prostheses offered to amputees, as these are often extremely basic. “We just want them to up their game a bit so that people can have a better life”, the charity explained.

Parents, as well as carers, need more support too. Rachel Rees, partner here at Potter Rees Dolan, provided lots of interesting insight into how difficult it is to calculate compensation sums for children or adolescents, and the pressure this places on the child’s parents.

She stated that, as part of a compensation claim, parents will need to offer as much evidence as possible into the life the child might lead when they grow up, including whether they might want children, what kind of job they might carry out and the kinds of leisure activities they may like to engage in. This is crucial to calculating an appropriate level of compensation, but is obviously extremely difficult for parents and families to do to an accurate level.

5. Returning to work is crucial to amputees’ wellbeing

Mike Sleap, specialist occupational health physiotherapist at Designed2Move and the Health & Work Matters Project, gave a stirring talk about the importance of work to the overall health and wellbeing of amputees.

He shared the statistic that “someone who has been off work for six months or longer has an 80% chance of being off work for five years” and that this long-term absence was a particular risk for amputees, who have to deal with rapidly changing comfort zones and movement patterns, as well as a lot of pain and a traumatic psychological incident.

Mike said that there were a wide range of benefits of returning to work as soon as possible. It:

  • promotes recovery and rehabilitation;
  • leads to better health outcomes;
  • minimises the harmful physical, mental and social effects of long-term sickness absence;
  • promotes full participation in society, independence and human rights;
  • reduces poverty;
  • improves quality of life.

However, he explained that despite all of those benefits, the health condition in question isn’t actually the biggest obstacle to returning to work – it’s actually a mix of personal psychosocial factors, workplace factors and the relationship with a manager.

We’re delighted that so many inspirational and knowledgeable speakers agreed to spend the day with us and share their stories and insight. While it’s clear awareness of the challenges facing amputees does need to improve, we know that events like this will help us get there and ensure that amputees get the support they need from the legal system on a consistent basis.

Gerard Martin QC is a member of our Personal Injury Department at Chambers.