Why do allied health professionals need to be empowered?

Esther Clift is a Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist in Southampton, and a BGS member. In December she attended a conference for allied health professionals at The King’s Fund, chaired by BGS President David Oliver.

Last month, The King’s Fund put on a well subscribed event entitled ‘Empowering Allied Health Professionals to Transform Health and Care Services’.

That title set me wondering: why would we need to be empowered? After all, AHPs like me already make up a significant proportion of the health and social care workforce. 172,686 of us are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, and yet it seems we are often lumped into an amorphous group of ‘doctors and nurses’ who deliver health care.

Is that just because too few people (even those who should know better) can name more than three or four of the twelve professions under the ‘allied’ banner?  Do we have a crisis of identity?

The event went some way to reassert the influence and innovation of AHPs. Suzanne Rastrick, the new Chief Allied Health Professions Officer at NHS England, pointed out that an AHP is often the patient’s choice, even without really understanding what or whom they are choosing. But patient choice is key in this day and age, isn’t it? And commissioners see what citizens want. So why do we still need empowering?

David Oliver pointed out that the doctors have the power and the nurses have the numbers: AHPs have less of each, so are often overlooked.

This is evident  in my own workplace, sadly: new innovative posts are often advertised as specialist nursing posts, from Emergency Nurse Practitioners in Emergency Department Minor Injuries Units to Inreach Nurses or Fragility Fracture Nurse posts, until a challenge is made and the job description is changed.

This short-sightedness is often to the detriment of the wider workforce: we need a workforce that has depth of competency and richness; we all know that AHPs are patient-focused and readily embrace change, so why not choose us first?

Our downfall as AHPs seems to be our inability to blow our own trumpet! We are confident that everyone knows how brilliant we are, so we don’t need to keep reminding them, but it seems we do.

We need to be bolder in showcasing the fantastic work we are involved in to meet the ever-tightening financial constraints of the NHS, and the boundary-breaking partnerships we forge with our colleagues in the private sector or in social care. We need to be recognised for challenging arcane rules for the benefit of quality patient care. And we need to back this up with robust data on what we do and how effective it is.

To that end I welcome the recent QualityWatch document Allied health professionals: Can we measure quality of care?’ from the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust. This contains masses of accurate quantitative data showing how much we do and with whom.

There’s also the brilliant  case made by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy that physiotherapy prevents falls in an older population, with the clear financial inevitability that for every £1 spent on physiotherapy, £1.50 is raked back in savings.

So, perhaps it’s us as AHPs who need to take the responsibility to empower ourselves!

One thought on “Why do allied health professionals need to be empowered?

  1. As a fellow AHP, a former NHS manager and now an educator with a focus on post-registration education and professional development for AHPs this is a topic I am pondering a lot. Of late I have been wondering, in the context of a healthcare model that has placed more value on some types of evidence than on others, what impact many years of being told that our evidence is not gold standard might have had on our confidence to fly the AHP flag? And so we have quietly got on with our person-centredness and known that we are doing small things to make a big difference – and knowing that this is different from statistical significance. Maybe now our time has really come – as the value of wider and less traditional forms of evidence is gathering momentum in healthcare and there is a sense of re-appraisal of what evidence looks like (e.g. Greenhalgh et al, 2014 Evidence based medicine: a movement in crisis? BMJ 348). What we do need to put some energy into, is giving AHPs the skills to be discerning about our evidence and to articulate it in useful and meaningful ways – especially for decision makers like senior managers and commissioners, (e.g Swan et al (2012) Evidence in management decisions – Advancing knowledge utilisation in healthcare management.NIHR:HMSO). i.e. It is not enough to leave AHPs feeling inadequate all over again because they are not standing up for themselves. Great to see some attention to the AHP contribution – time for some more AHP flag-waving.

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