Connect Health doubles student placement programme – training the workforce of the future

Connect Health is welcoming 200 more virtual student placements, thanks to grant support from Health Education England (HEE).

14 January 2021

Hot on the heels of its hugely popular summer-long virtual placement programme, in which it supported 180 physiotherapy students struggling to find traditional roles due to COVID-19, Connect Health is welcoming 200 more placements, thanks to grant support from Health Education England (HEE).

Between May-August 2020, Connect Health, the UK’s leading independent community provider of musculoskeletal services (including physiotherapy, orthopaedics, pain, rheumatology, and occupational health services), stepped in to help. An anticipated 50% of courses were paused for the UK’s 1000 physiotherapy undergraduates because of the pandemic, prompting the company to launch its pioneering initiative. Including training sessions using remote tools such as Microsoft Teams and Facebook Live, the placements allowed for consultations with patients and students around the world.


Matthew Wyatt, Consultant Physiotherapist & Clinical Lead at Connect Health, explains:

Finding student placements is still a major struggle for universities due to COVID-19 restrictions and a serious worry for students who are unable to progress, graduate or join the workforce. The impact is also particularly troublesome for our industry where we’re seeing increased demand for clinicians to fill First Contact Practitioner roles. Maintaining good workforce supply is now more vital than ever.

“We are very focused on developing the next generation of clinical graduates who bring energy and a fresh perspective to the workplace. We hope to remove barriers by offering an even greater number of placements and preventing capacity constraints in undergraduate and postgraduate course development. By supporting greater numbers, we will help provide the NHS with a larger clinical workforce in order to provide enhanced patient care. We are extremely grateful to HEE for supporting our work.


Connect Health’s plan for 2021 is to continue to offer virtual placements while there is still a focus on remote working while planning for a return to ‘business as usual’ – embedding learning from its virtual models into normal service structures.

It intends to more than double the number of practice-based placements available by implementing a standardised, national model, identifying unused capacity and carrying over learning from the virtual model into a practice-based model. The placements will incorporate a range of clinical disciplines, including physiotherapy, podiatry, occupational therapy, nursing, hand therapy, rheumatology and pain services, making it a truly multidisciplinary approach.


Beverley Harden, Allied Health Professions Lead, Health Education England says:

We are delighted to be supporting the AHP Placement expansion bid with Connect Health which enables 200 additional student placements. This is vital to support placement recovery and growth. It is fabulous to be able to build on the innovative and sustained leadership seen during the summer.


Matthew added; “We believe our programme is the largest in the NHS MSK, pain and physiotherapy field, which should exceed 200 by Sept 2021. Through our established Clinical Academy we will ensure the highest quality of consistent training, raising the bar for all our students.”


Kelly Green, Practice Experience Lead, School of Allied Health Professions, Keele University added:

We had 6 students out from Keele over the summer, who were struggling to progress if we could not source them a placement. The mentors at Connect all engaged with our online assessment system brilliantly, contacted us if any problems and completed all that was necessary for the assessment forms to be submitted through our exam boards and offered amazing support to our students throughout, which means our students can now either progress onto the next year or graduate.


Amelia Bell-Bentley, 28 from Manchester, is studying Physiotherapy at Salford University and completed a six-week placement with Connect Health. She says:

I was really impressed with the virtual placement. My mentor, John Gates, was great and he gave me a lot of support throughout, such as shadowing me via video call whilst I spoke with patients over the phone.

It’s fantastic how quickly the team incorporated virtual learning, allowing students to have a secure placement during the current climate. The biggest learning I’ve taken away from the scheme is the confidence to use technology to deliver my work, such as utilising video sessions for patients or community presentations.

There’s a big demand for placements with higher student capacity, so it’s great that Connect Health is expanding the programme. I’d 100% recommend the placement to other students – it’s more hands on than you might think and there’s many ways you can interact with other educators and students, such as group learning sessions and a student forum platform.


Further reading


BMJ published report: Rapid implementation and improvement of a virtual student placement model in response to the COVID-19 pandemic


Our 8-point plan for setting up a virtual student placement programme


Connect Health is working in conjunction with the following universities;

Read more about our academic partnerships here.