The crucial roles of Allied Health Professionals in improving health and wellbeing of patients at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals

Fiona Cathcart
By Fiona Cathcart     14/10/2022

This Allied Health Professions (AHP) Day, we are celebrating our colleagues working across Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals who improve the health and wellbeing of our patients every day.

We spoke with Fiona Cathcart, associate director of rehabilitation and therapies, to find out more about the varied roles of AHPs across the hospitals.

Tell us a bit about Allied Health Professionals and their roles in delivering patient care across our hospitals

Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) are the third largest workforce in the NHS. Mainly, AHPs are degree-level professionals and they work autonomously within the healthcare setting. AHPs provide system-wide care to assess, treat, diagnose and discharge patients across social care, housing, education, and independent and voluntary sectors. Through adopting a holistic approach to healthcare, AHPs manage patients’ care throughout their life, from birth to palliative care. Our focus is on prevention and improvement of health and wellbeing to maximise the potential for individuals to live full and active lives within their family circles, social networks, education/training and the workplace.

We have six of the 14 AHP roles working across Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals: radiographers, operating department practitioners, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and dietitians. Our AHPs work together to support our patients with complex heart and lung conditions. We support patients across their whole journey from prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation, to the ongoing management of their condition.

How do AHPs work together at our hospitals and how does that benefit patients’ treatment and recovery?

Our physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, dietitians and occupational therapists work in multi-professional therapy teams that also include clinical psychologists, nurses, exercise physiologists and assistant practitioners – all underpinned by our fantastic administrative staff. This model of working, as a holistic multi-professional team, enables us to really personalise our patients’ care, learn from each other and adapt quickly as service needs change.

We all work together to enhance our patients’ quality of life throughout their entire journey with us. Our joint working means care is centred around the patient and their loved ones, enabling us to be responsive to their needs.

Are there any special considerations which AHPs working across our hospitals need to bear in mind when working with heart and lung patients?

As we are specialist hospitals, our patients tend to have complicated heart or lung conditions. By working together as AHPs alongside other professional groups we can provide the most targeted approach to care and utilise every professions’ specialist expertise. Many of our patients are supported by our hospitals for their whole life, and so continuity of care is crucial.

Can you give some examples of how patients might interact with AHPs throughout their treatment at one of our hospitals?

For patients with cystic fibrosis, our paediatric therapy team will support patients until they transition to adult care. Both the adult and paediatric team include dietitians, physiotherapists and clinical psychologists – all working together with the wider multi-professional team to support our patients to live life to the full.

For transplant patients, our transplant team will start caring for our patients at the time of transplant assessment and then support them throughout their transplant journey. Keeping patients well while waiting for their lung or heart transplant is our main goal as a team and then we look at how we can support our patients to regain their independence following their life-changing surgery.

What is your most memorable patient moment?

We had a transplant patient who could not attend the annual national transplant games as they were unwell in hospital. The team worked together to put on a mini transplant games at the hospital, which not only lifted the mood of the patient and staff but helped the individual’s rehabilitation.

What does the future hold for AHPs? Are there any big changes on the horizon which will improve the way patients are treated?

As we look to the future, AHPs will play an increasing role in supporting patients across all aspects of healthcare. We are seeing more and more advanced clinical practice (ACP) roles where AHPs are stepping outside the traditional boundaries of their professional role to support our patients. We have ACPs in our intensive care units and have a physiotherapist in our cystic fibrosis team on their ACP MSc training now.

We need to think innovatively about our future workforce across all professional groups and AHPs in ACP posts will help ensure the right workforce, with the right skills, is in the right place to deliver high-quality care to our patients. We are also seeing AHPs move into leadership roles across healthcare organisations, working outside of the traditional therapy posts. We know our staff have the skills to develop into exceptional healthcare leaders who can drive innovation with our patients and families. 

We know we need 27,000 more AHPs in England over the next four years. The majority of AHPs qualify through pre-registration education, but it is widely recognised that the ‘grow your own’ approach is valuable to attract, train and recruit people local to our hospitals and to improve the diversity of those trained. Apprenticeships do just this and are becoming more and more important in our approach to improving and sustaining our AHP workforce. Across rehabilitation and therapies at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals, we currently have six apprentices in occupational therapy and physiotherapy. These are staff who were working as therapy practitioners and we are supporting them through their AHP degrees while they work. We are also supporting staff in leadership and quality improvement apprenticeships to support their career development ensuring we are developing our own AHP leaders of the future.