Harefield physios partner with Brunel to help patients

With the pandemic putting a stop to many work-based student placements, a group of six physiotherapy degree students, who would ordinarily complete their work placement at Harefield Hospital, have been able to put theory into practice using Brunel University London's large gym facility, thanks to a new partnership facilitated by therapy lead for cardiac rehabilitation, Heather Probert.

Work placements are crucial for graduates in helping them find a job after graduation. As Harefield’s patients often have very complex and unusual heart conditions, the placements also give the students access to knowledge they may not get elsewhere. But the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to many work-based student placements, including physiotherapy placements. The partnership meant that the students were able to use Brunel’s large gym facility to provide patients with physiotherapy.

Heather said: “Delaying work-placements can delay students graduating from their course – and this means there are lower numbers of physios available for work. But to protect our staff and patients, we weren’t able to allow the usual intake of students into the hospital.

“We have a good relationship with Brunel, so they approached us to offer their gym facilities over the summer to hold patient clinics with a group of their students. It was a good solution, so it didn’t take us long to agree!”

Heather’s team ran the seven-week placement over the university’s summer break for a group of six students. The spacious facilities at Brunel meant students had access to patients both virtually and in-person when patients were able to travel to Brunel’s gym.

Brunel student physiotherapist, Alex Ward, took part in the placement. He said: “The work placement allowed me to put my skills into a clinical, familiar setting and work with various patients from different backgrounds. I've enjoyed the different aspects that come with treating patients with heart conditions and the adaptations we have to make to our treatment to best fit their specific needs.”

Heather and her team were one of the first cardiac rehab teams in the country to restart patient clinics following the outbreak of the pandemic. They began group virtual exercise sessions with patients from May 2020, and developed local relationships with community venues to offer socially-distanced sessions for patients wanting treatment in person in July 2020.

Heather said: “It’s not just our students who benefited from this partnership, our cardiac patients have often gone through complex or traumatic experiences, so rehabilitation is incredibly important for their recovery. While Covid has proved very disruptive to services, it has spurred us on to think of innovative solutions. One student had to return home to Canada two weeks before his placement was due to end. But he was able to continue the work-placement entirely remotely – this would not have been possible pre-pandemic.”

John Cossar, divisional lead physiotherapy and physician associate at Brunel, said: “Heather and the clinical team from Harefield have clearly demonstrated what can be achieved when a university and a local NHS hospital develop new ways of working together. By sharing our resources, we have maintained clinical services for patients while at the same time preserving the clinical education that is essential for our students to graduate and join the healthcare workforce. We look forward to working with Heather and Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals to continue this collaborative provision.”