Sarah Parker, Surrey Heartlands Director of Transformation

Did you know that the 14 Allied Health Professions – which range from art and other therapists, through paramedics to radiographers – form the third largest workforce in health and care?

The breadth of their skills and reach across people’s lives is hugely important and has the ability, quite literally, to transform lives; and their contribution and reach across organisations makes them ideally placed to lead and support change and improvement.

That is just part of the reason I was delighted to see more than 200 AHPs from across Surrey Heartlands come together recently for the first conference of its kind in our system.  As a qualified speech and language therapist myself (before moving into a leadership role), this was an event very close to my heart and it was inspiring to hear Suzanne Rastrick, NHS England’s Chief AHP, call on colleagues to do more to lead change and get involved.

Inspiring from the front, Suzanne Rastrick originally qualified as an Occupational Therapist and began her career in the acute hospital sector and became one of the first AHPs to hold a substantive Director of Nursing post – no mean achievement.

Her message was clear:  colleagues from grass roots level up all have the ability to lead change.  ‘Knock on doors, get involved, and don’t wait to be invited’ – a message that’s equally relevant to staff groups right across the health and social care sector.  After all, change that’s real and effective is rarely that which is led from the top; it has to be bottom up, part of a partnership between people – staff as well as patients and citizens – and everyone has a part to play.

Suzanne called on systems to ensure AHPs are represented in decision-making processes, ensuring they have a strong voice in the redesign of health, social care and the wider system.  Across Surrey Heartlands clinical leadership has been a real focus for us and our AHP colleagues play a key part within that.

We know our true strength is in collaboration and as a leader part of my contribution is to help liberate colleagues so they can follow up on their ideas and not to allow unnecessary process get in the way of doing the right thing – so simple yet so important. 

Participants also heard from Paul Gaudin, a serial innovator, talking about ‘the art of the possible’, how with a little effort and self-belief individuals and organisations can bring ideas to fruition, changing and improving the way we deliver care.

Paul is the founder of Care Rooms, a network of local hosts who offer spare rooms to patients ready for discharge from hospital, helping to reduce bed blocking and social isolation. Around 60% of those who apply to be hosts are retired healthcare professionals, and we’re now trialling this idea in Surrey Heartlands – a fantastic example of local innovation.

Overall the conference was about celebrating our hardworking and talented AHPs and for them to have an opportunity to network and meet new colleagues. It was an inspiring day and really helped to create a better understanding about our ambition in Surrey Heartlands.

Closing the day, I urged colleagues to work together as one team, to take their ideas and dare to implement them. I want them to be stronger together – to create a network of AHPs across Surrey, connecting with each other and creating change. I look forward to seeing them do this.