Objectives: To describe the use of physiotherapy services and alternative therapies by a population of children with moderate to severe cerebral palsy (CP).
Design: Descriptive cross-sectional survey.
Subjects: A total of 212 parents of children aged 4-14 years with moderate to severe CP were identified from the Northern Ireland Cerebral Palsy Register (NICPR) and a random subsample of their paediatric physiotherapists.
Main measures: A standardized description of motor impairment or assessment form; a postal questionnaire to parents and paediatric physiotherapists (to validate parents' reports of service use). RESPONSE RATES: In total, 85% of parent questionnaires were returned and 100% of paediatric physiotherapists responded.
Results: Service use among families was high; on average the families had contact with approximately seven services in a 6-month time interval. The overwhelming majority of children (96%) received physiotherapy during the school term and most (59%) received treatment at least twice a week for 30 min; 43% of children had their physiotherapy discontinued over the summer holidays. Over one-quarter (28%) of families had opted out of the NHS and bought alternatives like conductive education (21%) or private forms of conventional physiotherapy (16%). Children with more severe forms of CP, in special education, particularly at schools for physical disability, were high-intensity users of the physiotherapy service. Despite this, 74% of parents wanted more physiotherapy for their child.
Conclusions and implications: The demand for physiotherapy services is likely to continue given the relatively stable prevalence rate of CP, the proportion of children with disabling CP and the level of parent interest in the service. A number of quality aspects and gaps in the service have been identified.