AHP support workers coalition image

Allied health professional (AHP) support workers must get equitable access to consistent and sustainable funding for education and professional development opportunities to support safe and effective patient care, a 14-strong coalition of organisation has warned.

AHPs comprise 14 different professions. These include occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, prosthetists and orthotists, who all may use assistive technology to help them in their profession by enabling people to remain independent.

According to the coalition, AHP support workers continue to be a crucial part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, having been redeployed on the frontline to assist in national efforts. Yet many report feeling invisible, with their knowledge, skills and experience being underused.

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The coalition warns that healthcare services are failing to use AHP support workers in a planned and strategic way, undermining efforts to meet the demands of a growing population and adapt to changing patient needs.

Professional bodies and trade unions representing AHP support workers have now issued a joint statement calling for employers, policymakers and workforce planners in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to take urgent action to address the unacceptable inconsistencies in education and development opportunities for the AHP support workforce.

The statement is signed jointly by the British Association of Art Therapists, the British Association of Drama Therapists, the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO), the British Dietetic Association, the British and Irish Orthoptic Society, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), the College of Operating Department Practitioners, the College of Paramedics, the College of Podiatry, the Institute of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT), the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, the Society of Radiographers and Unison.

The statement calls for UK-wide career development and progression frameworks for AHP support workers, with universal access to funding for training. It also calls for their inclusion in workforce development planning.

While they welcomed the recently published Health Education England (HEE) training and career development framework for AHP support workers, they insist more must be done.

CSP Chief Executive Karen Middleton says: “The talents of AHP support workers are being squandered across the sector when they should be nurtured, with far too many finding their careers are stalling because they’re undervalued and overlooked.

“The pandemic has created unprecedented levels of need in healthcare, and the skills of our support workers can help ease the pressure across the whole system. While the HEE framework is a welcome response to our calls for their contribution to be properly recognised, we want to see the same opportunities in Scotland, NI and Wales too.

“Urgent action needs to be taken to ensure all AHP support workers receive due recognition and reward for the critical contribution they make to healthcare, wherever they work.”

The coalition further pledges to work with the UK Government and relevant arm’s length bodies to bring about change in order to increase the number of AHP support workers and ensure they have consistent access to appropriate education, training and development that enables them to thrive.

Commenting on the statement Karin Orman, RCOT Assistant Director – Professional Practice said: “Over the last year, occupational therapists, alongside other AHPs have been on the frontline of the nation’s response to COVID-19. Importantly they have been aided in their work by a support worker workforce that currently is underfunded, undertrained and under resourced.

“AHP support workers possess skills and experience that are essential to delivering safe, effective and productive AHP services. However, this contribution frequently goes unrecognised – they feel invisible and undervalued. Alongside our AHP partners, we are calling for UK-wide action to help employ and train more support workers.

“RCOT is committed to working with UK governments and relevant arm’s-length bodies to bring about change in order to increase the number of AHP support workers. We will lobby for consistent and access to continued professional development and take action to increase equality diversity and belonging within the AHP support workforce.”

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