Supporting all health and care professionals to embed prevention within their practice is critical to the future of the health and care sectors.
As part of this it’s vital we look beyond the obvious NHS workforce to see how other professionals can help prevent illness, promote wellbeing and protect population health.
Allied Health Professionals make an enormous contribution to tackling public health challenges. Made up of 14 professions, including occupational therapists, paramedics, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists, AHPs are the third largest workforce in the NHS and are found across many other sectors including local government, education, housing, criminal justice and more.
Spending time with millions of people across the country every day, these professionals are well placed to offer health advice and support to a wide range of different communities.
What might this look like in practice?
Examples of support could come in the form of brief advice on healthy behaviours, detecting signs of more serious ill-health or helping people to live independent, fulfilling lives.
For instance, a physiotherapist might offer advice on healthy eating while a dietitian might signpost a smoker to local stop smoking support. Many AHPs, such as podiatrists, also play an important role in spotting symptoms of serious conditions like cardiovascular disease, by detecting irregular pulse through routine checks. AHPs play a critical role in supporting people to re-build their lives following a serious physical or mental illness for example developing confidence and coping skills to return to work.
Here are just some of the areas that PHE has been involved with where AHPs are making a difference:
- Boosting early years speech and language skills: speech and language therapists are at the heart of a new PHE-led programme of work to ensure timely referrals to expert speech and language support so that children gain the skills they need to thrive at school and beyond.
- Promoting healthy eyesight for children: orthoptists have played a crucial role in developing PHE guidance and materials to help children in reception year benefit from high quality sight tests, to ensure access to the right treatment and support.
- Celebrating the health benefits of good work: PHE has worked with the Royal College of Occupational Therapists to train occupational therapists across the country to become Health and Work champions. These practitioners encourage health and care professionals to make conversations about work a consistent part of their care delivery.
- Advocating the benefits of physical activity: The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has played a vital role in supporting people with long term conditions to improve their health and wellbeing through physical activity. The Love Activity Hate Exercise campaign has helped a wide range of health and care professionals to make the most from conversations about the benefits of physical activity.
Over the past five years there has been growing insight into the contribution that AHPs make to the public health agenda and how this might be enhanced.
More and more AHPs have become involved in sharing best practice and all higher education institutions now include public health within the pre-registration curricula for the Allied Health professions.
Working with the AHP Federation and others, PHE has recently published the first ever UK-wide public health strategy . This sets out our plans to maximise the contribution that AHPs make to prevention and how they can deliver public health benefits.
Over the next five years we’d like to see public health and prevention firmly embedded into the roles of all AHPs and better career pathways for those wanting to work in public health roles. It’s also important that more AHP leaders work with public health teams to identify where their skills and expertise can add value to the local prevention offer.
These professionals can and are making a vital impact on improving the health and wellbeing of the whole population. It’s time that their unique contribution was drawn on by everyone working across public health.