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NSFT gives its support to first Allied Health Professionals Day

​The first national Allied Health Professionals Day has been welcomed by the mental health trust serving all of Norfolk and Suffolk.

AHPs are the third biggest group of practitioners in England’s health and social care system – after doctors and nurses – and Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) employs 280 of them.

The aim of AHPs Day on Monday (15 October) is to celebrate AHP professions and the contribution they make to delivering high quality health and social care.

Lindsey Lovatt, NSFT’s Allied Health Professional Lead, said the Trust’s AHPs were a diverse group of practitioners covering the full spectrum of life from perinatal care to older people with mental ill health.

•           158 occupational therapists (OTs) and assistants
•           81 AHPs using core skills in generic / alternative roles
•           23 arts therapists (art psychotherapists, music therapists, drama therapists, dance                   movement psychotherapists and play therapists)
•           10 physiotherapists
•           4 dietitians
•           4 speech and language therapists

Mrs Lovatt, who is an OT by background, said AHPs deliver high-quality care by carrying out assessment, diagnosis, treatment and discharge, and are crucial to a patient’s recovery and quality of life.

“For years, the Health Service has, quite rightly, celebrated Nurses’ Day on 12 May – Florence Nightingale’s birthday – and I welcome an opportunity to do something similar for AHPs,” she said.

“I’m hoping the day will help increase public awareness of AHPs and understanding of their roles and how they can be used more in the workforce.

“The expertise and range of care this group offers is immense which is why it’s vital that we make the most of their skills for the benefit of our service users.”

Mrs Lovatt said she was passionate about representing a group of professionals who have so much to offer. She will mark AHPs Day by giving a Skype broadcast to staff, who will have a chance to ask her questions.

Dawn Collins, NSFT Director of Nursing, Quality and Patient Safety, said most people associated AHPs as working with physical healthcare but they play an equally important role in mental healthcare.

“Examples of AHPs within NSFT include speech therapists might work with someone with communication difficulties within learning disabilities or autism services, while dietitians can help those with eating disorders, or patients with obesity or malnutrition issues, both of which are a big problem within all mental health services,” she said.

“You will also find occupational therapists working within most mental health services, where they use planned focused activities to help service users to find recovery and independence.

“Physiotherapists will work with people with mobility issues which may be impacting their mental health, while arts therapists, including art, drama, dance and music psychotherapists and play therapists, can help people who may find it difficult to communicate verbally to express themselves through the different creative mediums."

NSFT’s AHPs, their professional colleagues and service users have been developing the Trust’s AHP strategy which will be launched at a conference next year.

Caption: Lindsey Lovatt, NSFT Allied Health Professional Lead

Case study 1: Sam Gromitt, Dietitian, Great Yarmouth and Waveney Community Eating Disorders Service

“I’ve been with the service since it started as a pilot in 2009. Two years later, it was formally launched as a service for adults and in 2014 it also began to support children – anyone under the age of 18. 

“I really enjoy my job. After leaving school, I had a variety of jobs, including working as a window dresser in John Lewis, but I always had an interest in food and nutrition. I started my dietetics degree in my late 20s, qualifying when I was 33 and then working for four years as a dietitian at James Paget Hospital before joining the Great Yarmouth and Waveney Community Eating Disorders Service.

“It’s a very challenging job. For example, it’s hard when I’m trying to help a teenager who doesn’t want to come and see me or engage in any way with the eating disorders service. I regard this as a challenge rather than a problem, and I try to find ways to build up a relationship with a service user, but it can take a long time to build trust.

“We’re one of only a handful of community eating disorders services supporting adults and children, and the main issues we deal with are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

“I work as part of a team and my role is to support service users by meeting their individual needs, usually on a one-to-one basis but sometimes involving a service user’s family. The team covers the whole of the Great Yarmouth and Waveney patch – not just Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, but as far south as Halesworth and Southwold, to Bungay in the west and Winterton to the north – and I see service users in clinic, in their school or college, in their workplace, in their homes or at GP surgeries.

“There is greater awareness now of eating disorders and we sometimes see children who are still at primary school. It’s best to get involved before they become very unwell because that makes a good outcome more likely.

“Some of the adults I support are in their 40s and 50s and have had an eating disorder since they were teenagers, which was a time when there was very little help available for them. I sometimes go with them on supermarket tours so that they can look at food choices and labelling on food.

“As well as supporting service users on school visits, such as by assessing their social eating abilities, I also provide training to any professional involved in caring for a person with an eating disorder.

“In addition, I work closely with staff at the Norfolk and Norwich and James Paget hospitals when service users end up there because of physical health issues. I liaise with the paediatric and adult wards and go into the hospitals to support staff, including their dietitians, and to train them.

“I’m really happy doing what I do now, but I’d like the service to develop further so that, for example, we can start to meet the physical healthcare needs of our service users.”

* Sam advised that anyone who thinks they may have an eating disorder or who is caring for a loved one who they suspect has an eating disorder should contact their GP.

Case study 2: Maggie Batchelar, Art Psychotherapist, Woodlands unit, Ipswich Hospital

Over the past decade, there has been an increasing recognition of the valuable role the arts can play in improving wellbeing. The Department of Health has acknowledged the “major contribution” which arts can make to health, while the National Alliance for the Arts in Health has supported a wide variety of arts initiatives which have been designed to improve emotional and mental health. This includes participatory arts programmes, arts on prescription, art installations in healthcare environments and state registered arts therapists.

The movement has been welcomed by Maggie, who has worked as an art therapist for 26 years, largely with people experiencing mental health problems. She has spent the past 15 years in NSFT’s acute inpatient services in Ipswich, where she has seen the significant impact that art can make on individuals' recovery journeys.

“I see people discover or re-discover a curiosity in art making and in their own creative potential in all aspects of life,” she said. “Making art is one of the oldest human resources and there is evidence of art making in all cultures. It involves the capacity for imagination, dreaming and playing. It’s important for us as individuals and as communities, so I value art-making as inherently helpful for anyone who is willing and curious, regardless of ability.”

Maggie became an art therapist after completing an MA in art psychotherapy at the University of Sheffield following a BA hons in fine art in Newcastle upon Tyne. At the Trust’s Woodlands unit on the site of Ipswich Hospital, she works across the inpatient services, including the PICU, an adult acute ward and the later life inpatient services. 

“Art therapy can enable people to make personal connections with their artwork as a way of exploring and communicating their experiences and story, which may entail expressing distressing and confusing issues,” she said. “I often find that people feel more at ease when art making alongside others and it is an opportunity to gently begin to build a therapeutic relationship."

In her role in the Woodlands’ inpatient wards, Maggie offers art therapy both in individual sessions and in open groups where patients are welcome to come for any length of time to explore the range of art materials available.

She explained: “Whilst some people have skills or interest in art making as adults, many people haven’t made art since school, so I invite people to be curious and to try materials. Art can help people feel calmer, more focused and often leads gently into a conversation about themselves and their experiences”.

When Maggie meets patients on the wards who engage with art making, she often signposts them to local community arts and wellbeing resources, such as ‘Art in Mind’ and the ‘Inside Out Community’. This can help patients’ recovery pathways following admission, supporting an ongoing opportunity for creativity, fostering meaning, hope and feeling more connected with others. Social isolation can be one of the most debilitating factors for many people experiencing mental health problems.

“It’s a humbling and inspiring job to work alongside people at these difficult and distressing times in their lives and I am lucky to be working with some really visionary people at NSFT who support the movement towards meaningful art experiences being a really important part of recovery for many."

Case study 3: Dorothea Whilems, Speech and Language Therapist, Bury St Edmunds

A bilingual upbringing and a family history of dyslexia are two factors which Dorothea Whilems suspects may have predisposed her to an interest in speech and language, but it wasn’t until she was about 40 that she decided to make a career of it.

By that point, she had done various jobs, including working for more than 16 years in the education and events department of London’s Natural History Museum.

“I completed a number of arts-based Open University courses, including an English language course which included an element of linguistics but, much to my surprise, a module about how children acquire speech interested and inspired me the most.” she said.

“The course included a short introduction to phonetics, which I hadn’t even heard of until then, and it revealed to me the fascinating complexity that underlies the skills of speech and language which we take for granted every day.

“After a two-day taster course about speech and language therapy as a career, my path was set. I graduated from a four-year BSc honours degree at City University in London, which had a particular emphasis on clinical practice, in 2006 when I was 44.

“I wanted to work with people who have learning disabilities, which is something of a specialist area in speech and language therapy, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years in Suffolk, first based in Walker Close in Ipswich and now Hospital Road, Bury St Edmunds.

“I support adults from the age of 18 upwards all over west Suffolk but very little of my work is done in clinic because for a person with a learning disability the setting they are in has such a significant effect on their ability to communicate. Seeing my clients in a clinic setting would not give a true picture of their needs. Therefore, I go out to assess a service user and to observe them in their work placements, or with their families or in their supported living home settings.

“The aim of my involvement is to help service users achieve their maximum potential for communication. This often involves designing person-specific systems, which may include pictures and symbols, signing, using an electronic communication aid or app, to help them communicate more effectively.

“There can be misunderstanding about speech and language therapy. Sometimes, people think it’s about teaching the service user to talk properly or to use more socially acceptable behaviours but someone with a learning disability can’t just be ‘fixed’. It is far more likely that I will be aiming to fix the misconception about the person’s communication skills and teaching those people supporting service users how to communicate appropriately with them and how to offer meaningful opportunities for the person to express themselves and make their own choices and decisions.

“My role also involves supporting colleagues in partner agencies so that people with learning disabilities can access the same health and care services as anyone else – improving health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities.”

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