ARC 2022: Karen Middleton's conference speech

CSP chief executive Karen Middleton gave the following speech to delegates at this year's Annual Representative Conference (ARC), which was held from 14-15 June at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. 

by Karen Middleton

CSP chief executive Karen Middleton speaking at ARC 2022

Well what a joy to have spent a couple of days together face to face! To value the community of our physiotherapy profession. To experience that sense of belonging. I’ve missed this!

The last few years have been very, very difficult for all of us and you, our members, have been at the forefront of dealing with the pandemic – I applaud and thank you.

Our professional and personal lives have collided; we’ve put our resilience to the test and many of us have been ill and, tragically, lost loved ones.

But as we come out of the Covid pandemic, I see and feel something even more pervasive than a virus and that is anger, unkindness and hate.

Of course, there is the war in Ukraine; there is the plight of refugees fleeing from persecution by any means they can; there is the shooting of innocent children in Texas and the countless other national and international human disasters that make the news.

But I am actually talking about how we, you and me, act. How we treat each other.

Of course, world events will impact on us and our leaders will – or won’t- provide role models for how we should behave, but at the end of the day our own behaviour is within our own gift – it is the one thing we have control over. What we say, what we do, what we don’t say and how we react or respond – it’s all within our control.

Now I talked earlier about a sense of community in our profession – a sense of belonging. But what if you don’t feel you belong? What then?

I am certain that each and every one of you has experienced that feeling of not being included – or rather, feeling excluded. When joining a new school; not getting into a sports team; starting a new job; not being part of the ‘in’ crowd at university

But imagine feeling that every single day of your life – and not because of a choice you have made – the school, the team, the job or the university – but because of who you are.

And, of course, one doesn’t inherently feel excluded – you are made to feel that way by others.

I know there are very many physiotherapists and support workers who feel like this every single day.

Every single day.

And somehow what is even worse to me is the number of physiotherapy students who feel like this – imagine: They have chosen a profession – a so-called caring profession – and yet they feel excluded before they even qualify!

So who is doing the excluding here?

I’m afraid it’s those of us in our profession with privilege – our gender, the colour of our skin, our sexuality, our class. The unearned advantages that mean it is so much easier for us to feel like we belong.

But it is also in our gift to make others feel they belong too.

I come back to our own behaviour. How we treat each other – one human being to another – is fundamental to ensuring the culture of our profession is one of inclusion, is one where everyone who wants to belong, feels like they do belong.

That does not mean we have to agree on everything, that we cannot challenge each other, but it does mean we do so in a kind and compassionate way, taking care of our impact on others.

Words can fan the flames of hate and division but they can also help us to find a way forward.

Where there are opposing views on an issue, it is critical we find a safe space for those views to be expressed and heard, but we must do so in the interest of progress and of education, particularly when it appears there are competing rights that need to be recognised

We need a heavy dose of empathy and to walk in others’ shoes.

We must not make assumptions about each other. On the other hand assuming the best is helpful.

Free speech does not mean you can say whatever you like – there are restrictions – and I would urge us all to be more considerate in what we say and how we say it no matter what forum that is in.

And what about silence? Some are silent because they cannot find their voice; the space isn’t safe enough to say what they want to say.

But I have been silent on subjects in the past, causing a great deal of hurt. I am sorry for the hurt I have caused. We know silence is the voice of the oppressor.

But, of course it is oppression we all stand against surely? Regardless of where we might stand on particular subjects.

And we must stand together. There is more that binds us in this profession than separates us, no matter what sector we work in, no matter what speciality we choose, no matter what our gender, sexuality or colour of our skin.

This profession needs every single one of us to feel we belong.

Our patients and communities need all of us – demand is going up. We’re dealing with a backlog of pain, immobility and dysfunction like never before. We have a workforce crisis and the economy, inflation, energy prices and supply chain issues mean that all of us, wherever we work, will be facing financial pressure.

We have to stand together. Being a Trade Union means it’s not about me, it’s about us

We have to fight oppression together; we have to fight for fairer pay together.

What you need during times of adversity is to pull together –self-interest will surely pull us apart.

ARC is a wonderful place to discuss and debate in a kind and respectful way. A profession which can do this is a maturing profession.

A profession that can debate really sensitive subjects, allowing for different views and finding consensus, is a mature profession.

I want a mature profession that demonstrates compassion to each other as well as our patients. Belonging is created through intentional acts of inclusion and by embracing difference and I want everyone to feel they belong.

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