The invaluable support workforce

Karen Middleton explains how support workers were critical to her work in clinical practice

CSP CEO Karen Middleton
CSP CEO Karen Middleton

I can still remember my first day at work as a new chartered physiotherapist – or rather, I can still remember the acute anxiety I felt! And I recall the one person who could see what I was experiencing – she’d seen it so many times before – sweeped me up and offered to ‘chat things through’. This was Chris, a physiotherapy support worker, or ‘physio aid’, as we called support workers back then.

Throughout my clinical career, support workers were critical to my work and my ability to deliver high quality healthcare. They were often the ones that assisted newly registered staff to transition into the world of work; they provided the essential capacity to cover the workload and made physiotherapy more accessible to those who struggled to understand what the physiotherapist was explaining.

When I worked clinically – a long time ago – the role of the support worker was invisible on many levels. What I see and hear now is totally different and the Covid pandemic certainly brought the support workforce into even sharper focus. I recall a CSP regional event and every manager of a service, in whatever sector, was asked to stand and then to remain standing if their service could continue if their support workers were not available. Not one manager stayed standing. It was a clear indication of the value placed upon this crucial part of the physiotherapy workforce and of our membership.

And I think the attitude of the registered physiotherapy workforce towards support workers has also changed – I can still remember the uproar at the proposition that physiotherapy support workers become part of our membership!

All this has meant that support workers are now increasingly able to access continuing professional development and many will go onto train as physiotherapists as part of their career development. The audiences at our regional events include support workers and they are often speakers. Some are our CSP representatives in the workforce supporting members with health and safety and employment issues. We certainly see this valuable part of the workforce growing.

As I write, I don’t know if any support workers will stand for CSP Council, but I dearly hope so. As I have said before, the greater diversity is on council the better and there couldn’t be a better illustration of how far support workers have come than seeing them on council, representing the whole membership. 

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