Allied health professionals (AHPs) make up the third largest workforce in the NHS, including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, paramedics, podiatrists, orthoptists, speech and language therapists, radiographers, art therapists, music therapists, drama therapists, prosthetists and orthotists.
They work across health, social care, education and voluntary sectors, and emerging roles are also developing in other parts of the public and private sector such as criminal justice, fire and rescue services and housing.
AHPs are often described as natural integrators and the glue that binds the health and social care system, yet their transformative potential is not being fully utilised.
Earlier this month, NHS England’s Chief AHP officer published Allied Health Professionals into Action – a call to action to increase the use of AHPs to help transform health, care and wellbeing in England.
The development of this framework has been an exciting process, using crowdsourcing to facilitate an extensive online conversation with AHPs, system leaders and the public, with more than 16,000 contributions, comments and votes.
The result is a consensus on how the AHP workforce can be utilised to address three key challenges facing the health and care system:
- improving health and well-being;
- improving quality; and
- closing the finance and efficiency gap.
The first part of the document identifies the potential that AHPs have to transform health and care services based on the identified impacts that can result from the effective and efficient use of AHPs.
The second section presents a framework to support local decision makers to address how they utilise the potential of AHPs, and outlines a number of commitments and priorities to enable AHPs to transform care.
The framework poses questions to leaders to challenge and guide thinking when developing new plans and strategies, alongside fifty-three case studies that demonstrate current, innovative solutions to the challenges faced by the health and care sector and the wider system.
I was delighted to see the number of comments and commitments to improving the health and well-being of the population during the crowdsourcing conversation and it was clear that AHPs see this as a priority and can clearly identify their contribution.
It is heartening to see the progress achieved in the two years since AHPs agreed a collective ambition to be recognised as an integral part of the public health workforce.
We have reached a point where AHPs and system leaders clearly see the value that AHPs can and do bring to public health. The next challenge is to ensure prevention and health improvement are embedded into the work of every AHP and that AHPs are used to shape public health agenda’s relevant to their expertise.
So what will AHPs into Action add to the prevention agenda?
In 2015 Public Health England and the AHP Federation published a strategy to develop the capacity, impact and profile of AHPs in public health, which focused on the actions needed to further develop the public health role and profile of AHPs.
AHPs into Action will bring a focus on prevention as part of a broader transformation agenda for AHPs and this will be supported by a cross system collaboration to address the collective challenges we face.
It was clear when we wrote the AHP public health strategy that many of the actions that need to be taken are broader than public health; for example they focus on leadership, education and training, strategic connections, profile raising, evidence and measuring impact. These are the same areas of focus that we see in AHPs into Action.
I am looking forward to working with the Chief Allied Health Professions Officer and her team, AHP leads in NHS Improvement and Health Education England, the professional bodies and AHPs4PH to continue to drive these agendas forward collectively.