Health professionals' perceptions of rehabilitation care workers
People with disabilities (PWD) often come from disadvantaged communities and struggle to access health and rehabilitation, education and employment. This leads to poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, and higher rate of unemployment in comparison to people without disabilities. Therefore there is a need to empower PWD to remove all barriers which prevent them from participating in all aspects of their communities. In South Africa, 5% of the population is disabled and in a worldwide review conducted on access to rehabilitation services, it was reported that South Africa provided 21% to 40% of the disabled population with rehabilitation services. In 2012 the Department of Health (DOH) trained a new cadre of community health worker (CHW) in the field of rehabilitation in order to improve PWDs‘ access to health services. As a result, health professionals in the Western Cape became concerned about the role of this new cadre of rehabilitation care worker in PHC and CBS. The aim of this study was therefore to explore health professionals‘ perceptions of the newly trained rehabilitation care workers (RCWs). Q methodology was selected as an appropriate research design to meet the objectives of this study as it can be used to analyse opinions, perceptions and attitudes. The study population consisted of all the health professionals who engaged with the RCWs in the clinical workplace during their clinical practice module. A convenient sample of sixteen health professionals participated in this study. Ethics approval was obtained to conduct this study and all participants gave written consent to participate in this study. The researcher gathered all the viewpoints of the health professionals regarding the new rehabilitation care workers (RCWs) by conducting focus group discussions and document analysis. Statements were then drawn up based on the health professionals' viewpoints. The participants then ranked these statements from strongly agree to strongly disagree on a Q data score grid, in a process called Q sorting. The completed Q data score grids, called Q sorts, were then entered into PQMethod software programme for statistical and factor analysis. From the results of this Q analysis, two factors emerged which were analysed and interpreted. A factor is representative of participants with similar opinions. The participants loading onto Factor one and Factor two shared similar opinions of the RCWs. The results indicated that the participants were of the opinion that RCWs‘ role would be to strengthen primary health care (PHC) and community-based rehabilitation (CBR) and promote the participation of PWD in society. The results suggested that the RCWs were capable of improving the quality of life of PWD by empowering PWD to become actively involved in all aspects of community life. The participants felt that the RCWs would be included in the health system by working at intermediate care centres (facility-based) and in the community (home-based). However, the participants agreed that the RCWs must work under the direct supervision of qualified health professionals. Participants loading onto Factor one and Factor two further agreed that RCWs worked well in the structured environment of intermediate care health facilities. They felt that it would be beneficial for RCWs to be employed at these health facilities as the RCWs reduced the workload of the health professionals. From the results, it was also found that health professionals were of the opinion that the RCWs displayed positive attitudes and good professional behaviour in the clinical environment. Health professionals however identified gaps in the knowledge of the RCWs and a lack of skills to perform certain tasks. However, health professionals agreed that the RCWs' skills will develop and improve with time and exposure. This study showed that health professionals had positive perceptions of the RCWs and this could indicate that RCWs will be well accepted by health professionals as part of the PHC team. This could lead to the effective utilisation of RCWs in community-based rehabilitation. Recommendations can be made to the developers and implementers of the RCW training curriculum to make adjustments to the curriculum so as to address the lack of knowledge and skills in certain aspects of health and disability. It can further be recommended that South Africa's National DOH capitalise on these positive perceptions and train more RCWs to extend rehabilitation and health services to more underserved communities. This will assist the South African Government in ensuring that more PWD receive rehabilitation and become included in all aspects of their communities as is envisaged in the 2020/2030 health plan.