Back to work

“I’m now ready to focus on my career again” Perhaps you or someone you know is interested in getting back to the profession they love?

Back to work

‘What is Return to Practice?’

If so, this article explains how. If you’re an employer then read on to learn of the many benefits of supporting someone to return to practice.

What is Return to Practice (RTP)?

If you’re registered with the HCPC and have been out of the profession for two years or less, then there is no need to do any additional study or work experience. You can apply for relevant jobs straight away. Physiotherapists that have been off the register for more than two years will need to complete the return to practice process to update their knowledge and skills.

Return to practice requirements are flexible and allow professionals to update their knowledge and skills through a self-directed process. It means a returner is able to decide themselves how to complete their period of updating in a way that best suits their 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 (increased from 12 because of the pandemic).

Organisations need to take a flexible approach to help returners to practice.

Some ways to do this include:

  • 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 and together 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.
  • Think flexibly about how to encourage and welcome people back into the workplace. Many organisations across the UK already have established pathways back into the workplace. Make time to be aware of these locally and make connections with your HR colleagues. Common routes in the NHS include honorary contracts, fixed term contracts, training contracts, and often make use of support worker roles; it is important to note that these opportunities vary between organisations.

What are the benefits to organisations of supporting return to practice?

  • It addresses workforce gaps, including hard to fill positions. Try offering band 2/3/4 positions while supporting people to RTP, and then moving them into band 5/6/7 positions on obtaining HCPC registration.
  • It taps into a skilled workforce. People leave the HCPC register at 44 with nine years’ experience, on average; 60 per cent leave when they are band 7 or above (HEE/GEO survey, 2019). 
  • 89 per cent of NHS leavers are women and they leave for a variety of reasons including overwhelm, mental and physical health reasons, work life balance and need for flexibility.
  • Returners have around 20 years remaining until pensionable age and return with an average of eight years’ experience, with 60 per cent having left at Band 6 or above.
  • 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. 

    Are you thinking about returning? 

    Sarah Clifford is a qualified careers adviser working in the NHS. Sarah trained as a physiotherapist and worked in MSK until changing her role to retrain in career guidance and development in 2020. She advises colleagues to have a careers conversation, preferably with a careers advisor with a qualification in career development (QCD). You can find a register of career guidance professionals on the Career Development Institute website. A career conversation with an adviser focuses the conversation on you as an individual, rather than the benefit of an organisation. Sarah also suggests you should keep talking to other people as you start to formulate a plan as it can be helpful to talk through an important decision about your career with trusted friends and colleagues.   

    Think in broad terms of physiotherapy: what type of role would suit your personal situation, your personal values and your interests? If you have an interest in something try to find some volunteer work or shadowing; like a try before you buy, if you like it, that might be the right setting for you.

    Sarah also recommends being aware of your own biases as these can impact the decisions you make around job searches, for example women tend to experience imposter syndrome which can prevent them from progressing. 

    She also explains how the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated flexibility in the workplace which may allow you to have more open conversations with your line manager, employer or potential employer about the type of work arrangement which would best suit your needs. 

    For example, Sarah explains that commuting is no longer the norm in the corporate world as there are alternative ways of working and some of this change can be adopted in healthcare environments as well.

    The NHS is the largest employer in the country and organisations will have a variety of diverse roles which may be suitable to your needs and your skillset. Sarah suggests having a conversations with managers and employers to explore your options before making decision about leaving or returning.

    You are a highly valuable asset to your organisation. There are many different avenues to explore. Having a conversation with someone about your career options could help you look at the wider picture of where your skills could be utilised and consider your personal values. Life changes happen and there will always be another option.

    What support is available for returners?

    Natasha Pisarski and Natalie Matchett of Health Education England (HEE) explain the process and support available through the return to practice programme in England

    The HEE Return to Practice Programme

    The Return to Practice (RTP) programme from HEE supports former HCPC registrants that have left their professions to re-enter and gain their HCPC registration. Since the programme began in 2017, over 600 AHPs have been supported and returned to the HCPC register; 152 of those being physiotherapists. This is great news: we need to welcome them back and value their contribution.

    Returners have told us they want support in finding supervised practice; they want more flexible working; and they want a centralised point of contact within organisations who had the knowledge of the RTP HCPC requirements and HEE RTP Programme (HEE, 2021 Supervised Practice Survey). Returners noted a lack of clarity in how to return to practice and difficulties associated with attaining placements. 

    The National RTP HEE programme, together with collaboration between HEE and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy aims to assist these issues and improve the returning experiences for physiotherapists. 

    The HEE RTP programme offers many benefits to returnees including: support to find a supervised practice placement, financial support and peer support. To support returners HEE offers a non-clinical leadership placement where returners can gain experience and evidence in leadership and support future employment. 

    The HEE RTP programme team can provide support on all these issues. Please see our website for further information and resources and do get in touch.

    Find out more where you can read or download the pdf Health Education England’s Health & Care Professions Council Return to Practice Programme.

    Contacts in England: 

    Natalie Matchett and Natasha Pisarski National RTP Leads (HCPC), Health Education England
    HEE Return to Practice

    Contacts in Scotland:

    NHS Education for Scotland are currently refreshing and updating guidance for return to practice across NHS Scotland and if anyone wishes a career discussion or help sourcing supervised practice then they can contact

    Contacts in Wales: Funding for educational courses and assistance with childcare costs may be available.

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