One CSP: two roles

The CSP’s two roles complement each other and are equally critical, says Karen Middleton

Karen Middleton CSP CEO

As a trade union and a professional body, the CSP’s primary task is to deliver these two functions for members. For some, they will have equal importance, for others, one more than the other, depending on your employment situation, your sector and, quite possibly, your beliefs and politics. 

I started my physiotherapy career and engagement with the CSP as a local CSP steward. To be honest, I don’t think I knew what such a role meant but it sounded like I would find out more about my profession, could get access to local information about what was happening in my workplace, and there was also something about fairness, which attracted me. The stewards’ training I got from the CSP was some of the best management training I’ve ever had and, having attended some of the current training, I can still vouch for its quality and usefulness.

Throughout my time as a local representative, I learnt a huge amount about how organisations work and don’t work, about people, about our profession and about myself. I learnt what I really cared about and why.

When I became a manager, performing my role as a CSP steward became more difficult and I chose to step down. There was no instruction to do so and I know other representatives who have continued. Nevertheless, my stewards’ training carried me well through my first few months of managing others until I got more formal management training under my belt. 

I’ve been asked many times about how the CSP can perform both the functions of a trade union and a professional body as though the two are in opposition. I am very clear that both functions are ultimately about improving patient care, whether from the perspective of supporting excellence in professional practice and development or from ensuring optimum employment conditions for physiotherapists. Both are critical. 

Nationally, our ability to influence is enhanced by having these two functions. For example, with the workforce strategy currently being developed in England for the NHS, the CSP is represented on the over-arching ‘Implementation Steering Group’, on the ‘AHP Future Clinical Workforce Group’ and the ‘Making the NHS the Best Place to Work Group’. With the Long Term Plan (LTP), we have some fantastic opportunities to transform the NHS, but a sustainable workforce is critical too. While we have seen a 41 per cent increase in physiotherapy students since 2015/6, the healthcare system is still suffering from the shortage of physiotherapists due to the lack of investment in training for so long. It is imperative that we influence the national workforce strategy, both in terms of where and how physiotherapists can implement the LTP, and how we ensure the service retains the existing workforce. 

Locally, the two functions are seen in practice too: influencing local decision-makers to make the best use of physiotherapists to transform care pathways and improve the patient experience using research and evidence; making sure local workforce plans are cognisant of physiotherapists; and ensuring local workforce issues – like flexible working, access to training and health and safety – are being dealt with.

One of the most valuable elements of CSP membership is representation and legal advice should a member find themselves in difficulty. This is traditionally a trade union role but the other side of the CSP can also support in terms of CPD and collating evidence for the regulatory audit. Driving up professional standards and employment conditions for some, drives up professional standards and employment conditions for all. There is strong evidence that good quality work and employment is closely linked to positive patient outcomes. Decent pay and working conditions support our members to do what they do best – providing brilliant services to their patients.

There are times in practice when we need to keep the two functions separate but, on the whole, the value of the CSP as both a trade union and a professional body cannot be under-estimated. It makes us more influential locally and nationally, and enables us to provide a better service to you the members. And we are the envy of many physiotherapists and physiotherapy organisations around the world! 

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