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Celebrating the vital contribution made by occupational therapy

​6 to 12 November: Occupational Therapy Week

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) is celebrating the vital contribution which occupational therapists make to improving the lives of service users during a special week designed to raise awareness of the profession.

Occupational Therapy Week, which is organised by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, began today (6 November) and runs until Sunday (12 November). This year carrying the theme “I am an occupational therapist”, it encourages OTs to talk about the value they add to the lives of thousands of people every week.

At NSFT, OTs will celebrate by filming 15 second clips on their phones sharing interesting facts about their profession for circulation to colleagues, while a live Skype meeting will take place during Friday lunchtime to connect OTs across the Trust. Staff from various sites will be encouraged to join in and explain more about what they have been doing to mark the week.

In addition, service users are being asked for feedback explaining how occupational therapy has helped them. One ex-service user from Suffolk has already responded, saying: “After a breakdown I found myself in a very dark and frightening place. My mind had convinced me I was going to be attacked… I became a prisoner in my own home. My mind had turned against me and I was having severe panic attacks and flashbacks. I really wanted to die.

“Then I met my occupational therapist and consultant psychiatrist. Gradually through trust, and hard work it started to happen. My OT would bring sheets of paperwork about my condition with tools to help me, like relaxation techniques, flashcards to read when I felt scared or anxious, techniques to bring me out of panic attacks and breathing exercises.

“Because of him… slowly I learned to face my demons and own my mental health.”

Lindsey Lovatt, Allied Health Professional Lead for NSFT and an Occupational Therapist with more than 25 years clinical experience in mental healthcare, said: “I am delighted that NSFT have joined the hundreds of organisations across the UK supporting Occupational Therapy Week. It is a great reflection of our Trust’s community spirit.

“OT is vitally important, as it provides practical support to empower people towards recovery while overcoming barriers which prevent them from taking part in the activities which matter to them.

“Occupational therapy support can make a real difference, giving people a renewed sense of purpose, opening up new horizons and changing the way they feel about the future.”

Occupational therapists are the only registered profession qualified to work across mental and physical health and in NHS and social care settings, which means they are uniquely placed to see a whole person holistically. At NSFT, OTs work across all services.

For more information about Occupational Therapy Week, visit

Norfolk case study: “You can see the difference that you and your colleagues are making”

An Occupational Therapist who was inspired to pursue a career in the NHS after witnessing the high quality care her grandma received has described the satisfaction she gets from helping people regain their independence and return to their favourite activities.

 Debs Agar has worked at NSFT since qualifying in 2012, and moved to her current role within the Wellbeing and Therapy Team, on the 15-bedded Thurne assessment ward at Norwich’s Hellesdon Hospital, last November.

 She says she “absolutely loves” her job and the variety it brings, which includes everything from supporting patients to engage in meaningful activities on the ward to preparing them for discharge by assessing their independent living skills, such as cooking, self-care and financial management.

“I originally wanted to go into teaching but changed my mind after I saw the way an occupational therapist worked with my grandma when she fell ill,” said Debs, who lives just outside Norwich. “They enabled her to engage in activities of daily living while promoting her independence, and I really liked the way they supported her to do her best.

“I fell in love with mental health and how complex and rewarding it was while on a placement during my training. I really enjoyed the in-depth care I was able to give and decided that mental health was the area I’d like to specialise in.”

When a patient is first admitted to the ward, Debs will carry out an initial OT assessment so that she can get to know them and their circumstances and find out more about their hobbies and interests and the level of support they receive at home.

 She will then do what she can to normalise their hospital stay so that they can stick to their usual daily pattern and still take part in activities, such as going to arts and crafts sessions, the gym, or out for a coffee.

 Debs also plays a key role helping colleagues to develop their own skills by carrying out clinical and line management supervision within the Wellbeing and Therapy Team.

“I feel very fortunate and absolutely love my job – it’s really rewarding,” she said. “It involves lots of variety as we aim to look after the whole person and their overall wellbeing.

“This could include preparing people for discharge by finding community resources they want to engage in or looking at supported living or personal assistants who could help them. I may need to order equipment such as grab rails so that the person is able to stay at their own home. I also do a lot of work promoting self-help techniques and encouraging people to develop their own methods to manage their own mental health with the aim of making their day-to-day life easier.

“In addition, I will look at the impact which mental health difficulties can have on a patient’s physical health, such as affecting their ability to cook for themselves and get the right nutrition. Once we’ve identified any issues, we will try and empower the patient to overcome them by building their own skills, maintaining independence and staying out of hospital.

“We work with people of all ages with a wide range of different conditions who come from varied backgrounds and cultures, which makes the role really interesting. As Thurne is quite a fast-paced ward, you are also able to see people progress quickly, which is great as you can really see the difference that you and your colleagues are making.”

Suffolk case study: “I really enjoy my job – its varied and rewarding”

An Occupational Therapist who specialises in supporting adults with acute mental health difficulties to regain their independence, enjoy hobbies and complete daily activities has described the satisfaction she gains from helping people.

 Febi Sayi has worked as a senior OT on the Poppy Ward at Woodlands, in Ipswich, for the past year. Her role sees her liaise closely with colleagues to support service users with acute mental health conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia, help them develop their functional abilities and engage in meaningful occupations.

 Febi will assess patients following their admission, analysing their strengths and weaknesses using a special screening tool before working with the individual to draw up a plan of support tailored to meet their needs. This could include practical help to enhance their daily living skills, therapeutic support in a group setting or on a one-to-one basis or assistance to develop healthy habits and help them use coping strategies.

 Alongside her OT colleagues, Febi will regularly reassess patients during their admission and revise the personal goals set at the beginning of their treatment to reflect the progress they have made.

“I really enjoy my job, especially the patient contact,” said Febi, who started her career as a teacher in Africa before moving to the UK and retraining from 2005 onwards.

“We look at the whole person as an individual, rather than just considering their condition. It is a very holistic approach which involves a lot of engagement with patients, which I find really varied and rewarding.

“An OT will see every patient within three days of their admission to carry out an initial assessment using a screening tool which tells us more about their hobbies and interests. We can also assess their daily living skills, such as cooking and washing, as well as providing sensory stimulation and relaxation techniques to help them manage any anxiety they may be experiencing.

“I didn’t know much about the role of an OT before I moved to the UK, as in Africa it is not a well-known profession. But as soon as I started to research the job after I was offered the chance to train as an OT, I realised that it would link really well with the skills I’d developed during 15 years as a teacher.”

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