Return to practice: overview

Find out why physios leave clinical practice, what the requirements are for returning, and how you can support colleagues or employees to get back into physiotherapy.

What you need to know about returning to practice

How long have you been away from clinical practice?

Your return to practice journey will be different depending on how long you have been away from clinical practice.

The criteria for returning to practice are as follows:

  1. If you are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and have been out of the profession for less than two years, then there is no need to do any additional study or work experience. You can apply for relevant jobs straight away.
  2. If you have been off the register for more than two years, you will need to complete the return to practice process to update your knowledge and skills.

If you have been away from physiotherapy practice for less than two years there is no need to do any additional study or work experience. You may still decide to do some additional CPD or work experience in the area you wish to work in, but you can start start applying for jobs straight away.

If you have been away from physiotherapy for more than two years, or if you did not register with the HCPC within five years of qualifying, you will need to update your skills and knowledge.

What are the requirements for returning to practice?

Understand more about how return to practice could work for you:

Return to practice requirements are flexible and will allow you to update your knowledge and skills through a self-directed process. This means you are able to decide how to complete your period of updating in a way that best suits your personal circumstances, be that through supervised practice, private studies or formal ones. The timescale to complete the return to practice process stands at 24 months.

More information:

Watch the return to practice webinar

Why do physios leave practice?

Physiotherapists may choose to leave their career for a variety of different reasons. Health Education England found that allied health professionals (AHPs) most commonly leave their profession because of they are relocating, need a greater work-life balance, or need increased flexibility or part-time work. Other reasons may include financial constraints and lack of progression or learning opportunities. More concerning is that some AHPs are leaving their profession because of mental and physical health reasons, which have not been adjusted for in their workplace, or because they are generally feeling overwhelmed.

A high proportion of these individuals have five years or less experience in their profession and the majority of leavers are in their twenties and thirties. This phenomenon is known as the 'flaky bridge', which refers to the troubling period between graduating and feeling secure and progressing in your career.

How to support returning colleagues and employees

Organisations benefit a great deal from supporting returners. If returners are well supported, evidence suggests that they’re highly likely to seek employment with that organisation, thus reducing recruitment and agency costs, and increasing bank capacity. Supporting a returner is also an opportunity for employers to tap into a highly skilled workforce.

AHPs who leave the HCPC register have an average of nine years' experience in their profession prior to leaving and 60 per cent of those leaving are band 7 or above at the time. They also tend to return with an average of 20 years remaining until pensionable age. Therefore, supporting a returner means investing in the skills of your workforce.

Returners can also address workforce gaps, including hard-to-fill positions. To support physios through the process of returning to practice, employers should try offering non-registered positions while supporting the individual through their HCPC re-registration process. They can then be supported into registered positions on obtaining HCPC registration.

Take a flexible approach


Organisations need to take a flexible approach to help returners to practice. For example:

  • Consider what you can do virtually (e.g. online supervision sessions, training, videos).
  • Look at what your team can offer (not what it can’t). What are the learning opportunities and what can returnees add to services?
  • Encourage all team members to contribute to the returners’ support.
  • Think outside the box: supervised practice can take place in any area or specialism such as research or leadership placements and posts.
  • Team up with local supervisors who also have returnees to build a community of practice.
  • Consider alternative placement models, such as sharing between teams or local organisations, as well as inter-professional, group mentoring or peer learning if you have more than one returner.
  • Use online and simulated approaches for multi-professional learning to expand placements for returners.
  • Secure partnership working between higher education and practice to support mentorship for returners
  • Use different routes to enable a return to practice, i.e. any paid employment or volunteering roles, including support worker posts. Offer the placement route only via the use of an honorary contract or employment using fixed-term contracts until they are re-registered. Offer a substantive post if one is available.

This work has been partially funded by NHSE (formerly HEE).

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