Gloucestershire Celebrates Allied Health Professionals (AHP) Day

AHP Katherine Broomfield, a Speech and Language Therapist, and Health Education England (HEE)/National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow,  explains why it’s so important that the role of AHPs is celebrated on AHP Day.

The Allied Health Professions (AHPs) are the third largest workforce in the NHS. In the main they are degree level professions, and are professionally autonomous practitioners who provide ‘system-wide’ care to assess, treat, diagnose and discharge patients across social care, housing, education, and independent and voluntary sectors.

Across Gloucestershire, AHPs are leading and contributing to research that is invaluable to improving patient care. There are many ways in which AHPs can be involved in research. We conduct local service evaluations and audits, recruit participants to clinical trials, support the dissemination of research, implement research findings in our daily practice, and pursue post-graduate training to develop the requisite research skills to lead research projects.

We have a network of research-active AHPs across the county committed to driving healthcare improvement through research and it only seems fitting to use AHP Day 2020 to highlight some of their fabulous work.

I am half way through a NIHR clinical doctoral fellowship through which I am conducting research exploring the experiences of people who have communication difficulties and use communication aids to support their speech. The Unspoken Voices Project is giving voice to people who generally find it hard to engage in research because of their communication difficulties and highlights the value that clinical experience can bring to research.

Gloucestershire podiatrists are Research Active AHPs in both local service evaluation projects and national research trials. Our podiatrists are investigating the use of ultra-sound scanning in the measurement of ankle ligaments with a view to further research examining the use of shockwave for Achilles tendon problems.

Members of our Podiatry team are supporting a number of national research studies including: “10 thousand tendons study” – an National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) study trying to find causes and effective treatments for chronic tendinopathy; the HEELS trial, concerned with heel ulcer management; and the MIDFUT study which is examining interventions for complex soft tissue complications. One of our local podiatrists Lawrence Bevan, is researching the use of remote consultations in his Professional Doctorate with the University of Gloucestershire.

Mel Reed is a Consultant Occupational Therapist (OT) so research is part and parcel of her clinical role. Not only is she pursuing her own research interests by carrying out a Masters course at the University of Cardiff, but she is also keen to support others. Mel is a participant in a research study (along with one of Gloucestershire’s Experts by Experience) at Kings College London looking at Complex and Emotional Needs. Mel’s research networks are opening up new areas for our OTs to get involved in research too and she is currently in discussion with universities and independent researchers to identify research opportunities for Gloucestershire AHPs and patients to get involved in research.

Jo Young, a hand-specialist OT has also been involved in supporting NIHR trials such as the iSarah trial run by Oxford University and is involved in another feasibility trial at present. There are many ways to be one of the Gloucestershire #AHPsinResearch by both pursuing your own research interests and by supporting projects being run by others.

All AHPs are #AHPsinResearch to the extent that we strive to embed research in our clinical practice. Ways in which we do this may include implementing the findings of research studies and further evaluate the effectiveness of new interventions. Gloucestershire Dieticians are doing just this. Two large clinical studies, DiRECT and DROPLET, evaluated the effectiveness of low-calorie diet (LCD) treatment for people who are overweight and living with diabetes.

The NHS is delivering a new programme of LCD as part of a wider digital 12-month behaviour change package and our Dieticians will be part of the team supporting the delivery of this programme to up to 500 people in Gloucestershire, with Sarah Hughes (Diabetes Specialist Dietician leading the LCD Remission Pilot).

Local Dietician, Ian Thomas, has been conducting a practice-based research project. He led a pilot project with the Cotswolds Integrated Care Team (ICT) investigating the impact of the pandemic on people’s nutritional health. The results of the project will help build our understanding of how clinicians working in ICTs across Gloucestershire can be supported to recognise and support those with malnutrition and whether easy access to dietetic support in the community improves patient outcomes.

Cheltenham Radiotherapy department is #ResearchActive. Therapeutic Radiographers in Gloucestershire are involved in all levels of research, from Quality Improvement (QI) projects to national radiotherapy trials allowing us to offer cutting edge techniques to patients. They recently opened the PACE radiotherapy trial, which is our first Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR) trial. SABR delivers highly focused radiation to the tumour, while limiting the dose to the surrounding organs.

Gloucestershire AHPs have been successful in securing a number of highly competitive fellowship awards that have supported them to pursue individual research projects and to bring their learning to local and national audiences. Hannah Morley (a physiotherapist) used a Churchill Fellowship to explore how Advance Clinical Practice (ACP) roles in physiotherapy are being used in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Her research identified the many strengths and opportunities that ACP roles bring to a health system but also identified the organisational, governance and cultural barriers that impede the successful implementation of such roles.

Several of our county physiotherapists are either ACPs or ACP-in-training and many also engage in Masters-level training to support them in these advanced practice roles. Many share MSc project findings at national and international conferences.

Our healthcare organisations in Gloucestershire are also supporting AHPs to develop their research knowledge and skills locally. Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust has recently recruited six AHP Research Champions to help identify suitable research opportunities for patients and to build a research culture within the trust.

At Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust NHS Foundation Trust, the research and development team is keeping track of all the AHP research activity to establish where skills and experience lie within the Trust. The Gloucestershire AHP Council has an AHP research representative regularly in attendance to keep research on the agenda and to share successes and opportunities for AHPs across the health system.

AHP day is an annual opportunity to celebrate the work that AHPs do across the health service and research is a critical part for what keeps AHP practice relevant and effective. Keep an eye out on social media on AHPs day when we hope to introduce you to some of the individuals and projects that are #GlosResearchActive.