CPD: Returning to practice: Part 1

In the first of a two-part series on returning to practice, Gwyn Owen unpicks what’s involved in getting back on to the HCPC register.


I recently attended the National Association of Educators in Practice conference. A presentation that sticks in my mind from that exciting event was Karen Benthall’s poetic account of returning to occupational therapy practice following a career break. Karen’s presentation left me thinking about our role and responsibilities as members of a profession in walking alongside a peer on what might otherwise be a long and lonely journey back into practice. If you’ve walked part of that journey with a peer, you’ll know that support can be anything – from introducing someone to your regional or professional network, or extending an invitation to an in-service training session or seminar in your workplace, to offering a supervised practice placement. 

If you haven’t been involved with one of the 633 physiotherapists who have successfully returned to the Health and Care Profession Council’s (HCPC) register since 2005, this article explains what the process involves. It will also signpost you to a set of online resources designed to help you maximise the benefit of the return to practice process – for you and the returnee. The second article in the series will look at the benefits and process of supporting return to practice from a service and business perspective. 

Regulation of physiotherapy practice

In order to practise as a physiotherapist in the UK, individuals are required by law to be registered with the HCPC – the UK’s regulator for health professions. As a regulator, the HCPC sets minimum standards for physiotherapy practice, maintains a register of physiotherapists, and disciplines registrants who fail to meet its requirements. The HCPC’s definition of ‘physiotherapy’ is deliberately inclusive to accommodate the diversity of physiotherapy practice and roles from the clinical, academic/research, leadership and management spheres. The HCPC standards set an expectation that individuals who are not practising their profession (whether through permanent retirement, or due to a change in health status or a planned career break) remove their name from the register. This process is designed to protect the public by ensuring the currency of the register. 

Requirements for readmission on to the HCPC register

The requirements for readmission on to the register depend on the length of time spent away from practice. For practitioners who have spent from two to five years off the register, the requirement is 30 days of continuing professional development (CPD) activity. The requirement increases to 60 days of CPD activity for practitioners who have been off the register for more than five years. 

The return to practice period is flexible and can contain a mix of supervised practice, formal learning and self-study that is related to the practice and occupational role (academic, clinical or managerial, for example) the individual wants to return to. The HCPC expects that at least 50 per cent of the return to practice period is spent on a mix of formal learning (such as a return to practice programme, short courses/study days, master’s modules) and supervised practice. This flexibility is valuable because it accommodates the rapidly changing nature of contemporary physiotherapy practice. It also allows the individual to design a programme of CPD activity to address their personal and professional learning needs. 

Mutual benefits

The HCPC is clear that the supervised practice element of the journey must be managed by a registered physiotherapist whose report of the returnee’s practice would accompany their application for readmission on to the register. While this requires careful organisation and a clear commitment from everyone involved, feedback from members highlights there are often unexpected benefits to offering a supervised practice opportunity.

I will summarise this feedback as follows: ‘It feels really good to have helped Sian get back into physiotherapy after she took time out to care for her mum. I’ve learnt so much about my handling skills and how I communicate with patients from working alongside her. Although it took time and energy to organise and run a placement for Sian, I’m really pleased that she has now accepted a permanent contract.’

Helpful resources

If you do have an opportunity to walk alongside a peer who is making their journey back into physiotherapy practice, this list of online resources will help you.

Online resources 

This list below offers a sample of information, guidance and CPD tools that are available to support the return to practice process. 

HCPC’s Returning to practice guide offers information about the returning to the HCPC register – for returnees and those supporting a colleague’s return to practice. 

Frontline articles

  • All change: first steps in a new career 
  • Making a move: learning from career development. Use the information and guidance from Nina Paterson’s articles to help develop a structure to guide and support a peer on their journey back into physiotherapy practice.
  • CSP’s Practice Education Guidance offers information about the design, delivery and development of practice-based learning opportunities for pre-registration students. Visit this resource for information that will help you promote the benefits of supporting a peer’s return to practice to your service/business manager; and guidance about establishing a model of supervision that supports the return to practice process. 
  • The events page on the CSP’s website is one place to start looking for formal courses and events to support the return to practice process. You will find information and guidance to help returnees find learning opportunities to meet their learning needs and support the development of their practice in the CPD in practice series, which is available here.  
  • CSP’s Physiotherapy Framework describes the values, behaviours, knowledge and skills required for physiotherapy practice. The entry-level graduate descriptors outline what’s needed to meet HCPC expectations of physiotherapy practice so could be used to evaluate and evidence someone’s readiness to return to practice. The framework can also be used to evaluate and evidence learning from the return to practice process - for the returnee and those supporting their return.
  • Recruitment, retention and return to practice network on iCSP.  CSP members can subscribe to this network to learn more about returning to practice, and to share experiences of the process.

Gwyn Owen

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