Former CSP chair of council Catherine Pope speaks to Mark Gould about restructuring the CSP and how to get into management
Catherine Pope, the former chair of the CSP council, has retired from the NHS but a new career in politics has just started. In the local government elections in May Catherine, and her husband Graham, who is a physiotherapy lecturer, were both elected as Labour councillors in Gedling, Nottinghamshire. When I ask what she thinks of the prospects for Labour she pauses and laughs: ‘Well I am more horrified right now about what is going on with the government.’
Catherine retired in 2021 after a lifelong career as a physiotherapist, starting at the West Middlesex Hospital in London in the early 1980s.
She was recently a awarded a CSP fellowship in recognition of her ‘outstanding strategic and inclusive leadership of physiotherapy and allied health professionals at local, regional, national and international levels’.
‘She has made a substantial and sustained contribution to raising the profile of physiotherapy in mental health, influencing clinical and policy agendas,’ her citation stated.
Again, she gives a self-deprecating laugh before saying that she was ‘greatly honoured to receive the fellowship’.
‘It is the highest award the society can give to its members – and it takes quite a lot of work to put in a nomination for a fellowship. I’d like to thank the people took the time to do that.’
As chair of the CSP council from 2015-18, Catherine instigated and led a major review of the CSP’s governance arrangements which led to changes that were implemented in April 2018. Council was reduced from 27 to 12 members and every position was elected by the whole membership. Catherine says the changes have resulted in a much more streamlined and accountable organisation.
She recalls: ‘We had a very complicated council and committee structure and found it hard to fill all the positions and it was quite difficult to get decisions made. A lot of members were keen to get involved in the CSP because they were keen to know what was going on, but they didn’t always realise that their role was to make decisions and be the leaders.’
At the time she says members were ‘very passive; and that the CSP staff were ‘quite dominant with members, rather reluctant to hold them to account for delivery.’
Catherine says it was her job to sell the reforms to members, including those who were not actively engaged, and those in senior roles who could well be losing out as a result of the changes.
‘That was hard for some people – but they were really truly doing the best for the profession often at a cost to themselves.’
The Pope family moved to Nottingham in the early 1990s when husband Graham, who was also CSP chair from 2003-05, obtained a physiotherapy lecturers post at the University of Nottingham.
‘With two young children I ended up doing part time mental health physiotherapy. As mental health found it more difficult to appoint people, they were much more flexible about hours I could do and what they would pay.’
It was here she realised that people with mental health problems were being poorly served, if at all.
‘When you have chronic depression, you need a therapist who understands how that is going to impact on your ability to take in information and what you are going to be able to do yourself when you are not at treatment sessions.
In dementia care there was an assumption that you could not rehabilitate people because they could not retain information. That’s not true of course, it’s all about how you do it – how you give the right cues,’ she says.
Catherine says she is proud of making changes to the core physiotherapy training curriculum at the University of Nottingham in the late 90s. Husband Graham, who is now head of physiotherapy and rehabilitation sciences, was redesigning the physiotherapy course. ‘They were putting in some option modules and I said it would be really good to include mental health and they said: “well write it then” – so we did.’
‘There wasn’t much in the way of research around physiotherapy and mental health. We set out the main conditions you might come across and try to get students to think about how they would adapt their treatments.’
Such was the impact of the new module that it made some physios question the way they had treated patients.
‘We were almost having to console people who thought so badly about previous patients. They said they had not really done anything with some patients. “Leave that to the end, they are not very high priority,” some were told. We had to say to physios: “that’s not your fault, but we can do better now”.’
Since then, Catherine has led the development and reorganisation of care pathways for older people which are inclusive of people with dementia, and a service specifically for people of working age with dementia, creating increased employment opportunities.
She has also led a national campaign to promote and safeguard the role of physiotherapists within mental health. This resulted in the inclusion of physiotherapy within Department of Health policy documents and on national mental health advisory committees.
Catherine was AHP (allied health professionals) director for Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust for ten years where she developed an AHP strategy, three AHP consultant posts, four AHP independent prescribers’ roles and an IT-based outcome measures framework for AHPs.
From an early-stage Catherine says she was certain she wanted a management career. When her manager retired, she was offered the chance to act up while they recruited.
‘I realised that I would be devastated if someone else got the job,’ she says.
‘I thought I would miss the patient contact, but I found that I could influence the care for far more patients in a leadership role than I ever could as a clinician.’
Initially she was managing physiotherapists, but she gradually became responsible for a range of staff.
‘It’s then you realise then that you need different types of leadership skills because you are no longer managing from the point of a being the expert. I don’t know how an OT is supposed to carry out their role, or the skills a speech and language therapist will need to use with any given patient. You have to ask them and therefore you start to lead in a very different way.’
For those considering management her philosophy is simple. ‘You don’t have to have a job title to be a leader
just start doing things – it’s about having ideas, learning from others.’
‘The best way to learn is to have a go. Look for and take opportunities where they are offered. Volunteer, help out with projects, find out the priorities on your trust’s corporate plan, what targets they have to meet, ways you could help them hit those targets. Go and talk to people about things you can do to help.’
Catherine is optimistic about the future of the profession. ‘Physiotherapists have a lot of skills that policy makers need to drive improvements – less reliance on hospital beds, prevention, a fitter, healthier population. Opportunities are there. The problem is that as a profession, we are small compared to the voice of doctors and nurses, how do we get heard and influence the right people?’
As we speak Catherine and Graham were loading up their campervan and Border Terrier to head for North Wales ‘where it will rain every day’. She offers a few closing thoughts.
‘I am glad I have helped the profession in the ways that I could. Physiotherapy gave me lots of opportunities. I had a brilliant career, and the time was right for me to retire but in retiring I will be able to use those skills and experiences not just as a councillor. Just because I have retired from physiotherapy I haven’t retired from life.’
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