‘The best job in physiotherapy’

In a changing of the guard at the CSP, Ash James is the youngest, at 34, to take on the job of director of practice and development. Gary Henson reports

Ash James
Ash James is CSP's new director of practice and development

On his first day in the new job, Ash James met with Emma Leary, the head of policy, standards and strategic relationships at the Health and Care Professions Council, the profession’s regulatory body. CSP members had been reporting ‘significant’ problems with a lack of communication with the HCPC, including not answering the phone or emails.

Fees have gone up when there was still no improvement in members getting answers to their calls. The HCPC suggested setting up quarterly meetings to update the CSP.

But James asked for a meet ‘three weeks from now.’ 

His upping the ante on behalf of members was to ‘get clear action to move things forward.’ A result.

James has taken over as head of ‘P+D’ from Natalie Beswetherick who retired recently after 11 years. The post was advertised as the ‘best job in physiotherapy’.

CSP chief executive Karen Middleton said he was expected to come with a whole range of fresh ideas: ‘Ash brings a wealth of experience and expertise, both from the independent sector and the NHS, as well as energy and excitement.’

He is seen as enthusiastic and approachable with a ‘modern’ take on the profession. 

Commenting on Twitter, after a Physio Matters podcast interview with James, CSP member Justine Musiime observed: ‘Great to hear about someone else who tends to put themselves in uncomfortable positions all the time!’

James said: ‘I am enormously proud to be a chartered physiotherapist, and over the last couple of years in particular have seen what our profession is really capable of.

‘Whether that has been on the front line during the Covid-19 pandemic, implementation of FCP in primary care, our ongoing push for community rehab, or increasing numbers of physiotherapists in AHP leadership roles, we have seen the profession stand up and be counted.’

James has a background in MSK and his career has spanned elite sport, occupational health, the NHS and education in both leadership and clinical roles over the last 12 years.

James Ash
Ash James

‘This has exposed me to the needs of patients and importantly the pressures placed on clinicians in different physiotherapy environments.’

He began his career ‘at a time when jobs were really difficult to come across in the NHS which is where my “unusual” career path started.

‘I began doing locum hours in a few NHS trusts which gave me an excellent grounding in our wonderful NHS, and alongside this worked in private practice with an excellent, experienced clinician who really taught me a lot.’

This resulted in doing some work with sports teams on and off, which eventually led to a job with the Welsh Rugby Union. He was a physio for the North Wales region to begin with and moved his way up to be the Wales National Sevens’ physiotherapist. 

‘This was a brilliant experience and not only allowed me to work with some of the best physios and medics in the business, it gave me a great insight into what it took to be part of an elite team, and how culture can influence performance.’ 

From there he moved into occupational health for independent provider IPRS Health and this is where he started a PhD (in occupational health low back pain) and moved into more leadership-type roles outside of the normal clinical realm. 

He managed the occupational health services nationally for IPRS, as well as continuing in clinical practice at a car factory where he took a keen interest in advanced rehabilitation.

During this time he also started to lecture at Manchester Metropolitan University – where he did his physiotherapy training – on their undergraduate and post-graduate courses.

‘It was here that my love of education and development grew,’ he added.

This then led him onto his role, just prior to joining the CSP, as head of clinical education at independent provider Connect Health which delivers care nationally for the NHS.

Here he worked closely with Health Education England during its roll-out of first contact physiotherapy and he was part of the first FCP supervisor trainer cohort. 

Describing himself as a ‘very proud’ Welshman, James speaks ‘partial’ Welsh. He was brought up on a north Wales council estate and lives in Flint.

Bringing people together is a passion of James’, who quotes a Welsh proverb, A fo ben, bid bont, told to him by his grandfather when he was younger, meaning if you want to be a leader, be a bridge.

‘That’s a really big part of what I like to do as a leader is bring people together, support people to get from one place to another, support projects to get from start to finish, that’s what I see my role as.

‘My approach as a leader is more of a facilitator of getting people from one place to another.

‘One of the biggest things for me about leadership is communication, it is at the heart of everything I do. I want to be genuine and have an intent-based leadership style’.

Since 2017 he’s been a media spokesperson for the CSP. 

‘Before then I was one of those CSP members who was kind of indifferent, not engaged particularly and then as I got more and more engaged, there was some great things that I saw such as the Right to Rehab campaign and other great campaigns over the years that I’ve really got behind.

‘There’s also things that frustrated me where the CSP doesn’t always seem relevant to what’s going on in clinical practice.

Part of my reasoning for going for the CSP job is because the best way to effect and influence change sometimes is to be involved in it and I didn’t want to be someone that just stayed where I was and was not trying to influence the change I think the profession needs.

‘What I’ve discovered even in my short time here is that some of the things I found frustrating just weren’t true. There’s so much going on behind closed doors that people don’t see. I think that sometimes this does the CSP a disservice. 

‘I think we can be louder about some of the things that we are doing and we can be more transparent about some of the things we are doing, so members do know what’s going on and do understand how involved we are, how much influence we have, and how hard people are working.’

There are now 63,000 CSP members. 

‘We’re the largest AHP group, there’s a real critical mass of physiotherapists that can make a really positive difference in the field of healthcare if we all band together and work as one team.

‘I don’t think people realise how much influence we could have if we all get behind the profession and when I say get behind the profession, get behind the CSP. Because there are lots of people very committed to being physiotherapists that don’t necessarily need to be engaged in the CSP, thinking about our colleagues who’ve been on the frontline during Covid who have been saving people’s lives, I understand if they haven’t read Frontline or were out campaigning in their local regional networks.

‘I think we have to have empathy with members who are working extremely hard on the frontline of care and that we can’t expect everybody to be fully engaged in the CSP. Which is why we need to make the decisions we make on the structure of the organisation and how we work, and we could make all those things much more accessible and visible for those members who are short of time, who are wholly committed to being a physiotherapist and doing the best job that they possibly can.’  

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