Listen up!

Physiotherapist Chris Barton is helping healthcare professionals to learn to listen. Robert Millett finds out more

Listening is not about waiting to speak,’ says Chris Barton, a clinical lead physiotherapist in women’s health at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Mrs Barton routinely treats patients with obstetric and gynaecological conditions. On a part-time basis, she also delivers the ‘Connected’ communication skills programme, which is run throughout England by the National Cancer Action Team.

‘Initially, I went on the course for myself as it offers communication skills for senior healthcare professionals,’ says Mrs Barton.

‘It was an incredibly good course and I noticed afterwards that a secondment to facilitate it was on offer at the cancer network. I decided to apply.’

Prior to getting involved, Mrs Barton assumed the subject matter wouldn’t prove to be particularly relevant to physiotherapy staff.

But since completing the course and becoming a facilitator, she is eager to highlight the benefits of communication skills training to all healthcare professionals.

‘Physios are not particularly involved in breaking bad news – such as telling people that they have a  terminal illness – and most people probably think that the course is mostly focused on that sort of thing,’ says Mrs Barton.

‘But  we are very much involved in picking up the pieces after people have had that sort of news and dealing with the worries and concerns that often come up.

‘Not so much with cancer perhaps, but particularly with long-term debilitating conditions where physios are very much involved in the rehabilitation side of things.’

The Connected course is compulsory for all senior healthcare professionals who are band 6 or above and involved in multi-disciplinary cancer teams.

But the training is open to all senior healthcare professionals, and is especially applicable to those working in emotionally sensitive fields.

The course lasts two days and involves a lot of role play.

Attendees are asked to bring examples of difficult communication situations they’ve had in the past, which could have been dealt with better.

These scenarios are then role played with actors taking the parts of the patients or family members involved.

Mrs Barton also teaches the Sage & Thyme programme, which is a half-day basic communication skills course open to staff of all levels who come into contact with patients or relatives – be they receptionists, healthcare assistants or mortuary assistants.

She explains: ‘It’s about dealing with distressed people and giving you tools to work with,’ Participants might, for example, ‘learn a logical way to enter into a conversation, hear someone’s concerns and know how to get out of the conversation as well’.

Mrs Barton thinks healthcare professionals tend to overlook the psychological and spiritual aspects of the person – and focus too much on the physical ones.

‘We are always waiting to give information and to jump in with helping. Sometimes what you have to do is just stand back and hear their concerns – and this is what this all really about,’ says Mrs Barton.

‘A lot of physios might think “that’s not my role” but, in fact, it is. ‘It’s everybody’s role and that’s partly what this education is about.’ fl

  • Sage & Thyme is licensed by the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust.
  • It was created by Mike Connolly, a Macmillan nurse consultant in supportive and palliative care at the trust.


  • The programme can be purchased by NHS trusts, universities and other organisations.


  • For further information, visit: and enter ‘sage thyme’ into the search engine.

Robert Millett

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