Pauline Austin, Advanced Practice Physiotherapist and Team Lead writes about her experiences in Occupational Health Physiotherapy after working in the NHS for 13 years.
In 2016, I had the opportunity within Connect Health to take up the post of team lead for Occupational Health Physiotherapy (North).
As an advanced practice physiotherapist and previously a clinical lead in the NHS with Cambridgeshire Community Services, clinical work alongside other health care professionals in the area where I feel confident – after all I had been practicing at an advanced level for 13 years’, so assessment and management is my bread and butter and comfort zone!
Clinical work is always challenging and stimulating but I was presented with the opportunity to move into a new arena consisting of contracts, key performance indicators, service, and contract review meetings, return on investment data whilst still maintaining my clinical input and interests of providing effective, evidence-based, quality, patient centred care. Lifelong learning indeed.
I was provided an amazing opportunity to take my musculoskeletal skills and further develop into the specialism of occupational health physiotherapy both as a clinician and as a manager. Membership of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics, through Connect Health, has been very useful.
As I live in Northumberland and in Connect’s northern division I was asked to take on contracts to operationally manage within Scotland and Cumbria as well as those closer to Newcastle. My contracts include various food manufacturing plants from Carlisle to Glasgow. In Cumbria, I operationally manage our occupational health physiotherapy service at a film production company in Wigton. Clinically I have found the work interesting and varied as I am seeing employees who are drivers, bakers, packing biscuits, engineers as well as specialist roles that I have never heard of. Learning of these job roles and the different environments and cultures in which people work has been a great eye-opener.
The challenge and opportunity presented was to tailor physiotherapy to meet the needs of not just the individual employee but also the workplace itself in assisting the return of their employee to work if absent or assisting keeping the employee at work. Another dimension I had not experienced before.
Within the management element of my role, I have met and engaged with key stakeholders at each contract and built up relationships with these individuals.
At some contracts, this is within Human Resources, at others the Occupational Health Department or Health and Wellbeing Service. There is a great opportunity for proactive work to assist employers looking after their employees holistically, for both physical and mental health wellbeing and provide recommendations to managers through workplace assessments as well as individual physiotherapy assessment and treatments.
This has been an interesting and stimulating experience too and although confident to introduce myself and present information it has been a learning curve to present and interpret management information of the service, to understand the data and the individual specific requirements of each contract and the individuals within it. I have come to realise that collaborative working is a key element and to understand the unique requirements of each contract essential.
Developing my understanding of the value of occupational health physiotherapy has been a gradual process.
I have learnt that Occupational Health Physiotherapy is not just for the employee in terms of educating about their condition and assisting with their rehabilitation but communicating both written and verbally with their employer regarding their fitness to work and recommendations to assist the employee to keep at or return to work.
Delivering quality care is a passion of mine and my role as team lead enables me to support and develop my team of clinicians. Connect’s clinical supervision framework enables me to do this well – I enjoy this aspect tremendously!
Now embarking on my third year in the Occupational Health Physiotherapy at Connect Health I have developed my commercial understanding and can see the difference my contributions have made through feedback and contract retentions and are confident to push on and continue to make a difference. We have a great team and I am proud to be part of it!