Alison Fletcher’s rehabilitation work in Uganda paved the way for her to receive a CSP award. Helen Mooney reports
Alison Fletcher is one of those truly inspirational people who believe that the skills they have are best used working with those who really need their help.
Having spent the last 10 years almost single-handedly setting up a rehabilitation centre for a population with considerable health care needs in rural Uganda she has recently received a Distinguished Service Award of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in recognition of her work.
After working in the NHS for the first two years of her career, Ms Fletcher questioned whether she was making the best use of her skills.
‘There were already 70 physiotherapists at the hospital I was working at and I wanted to see if there was a better way to use the skills I had.’
She contacted the Church Mission Society and was put forward for the Ugandan physiotherapy post.
‘I was quite apprehensive. I was going to live on site at a rural hospital, but I was fortunate to be able to visit for a few days.
I wasn’t supposed to see patients during the visit but I was lined up to see 20 patients the day after I arrived, and from then on I understood the scale of the challenge.’
Ms Fletcher went on to set up a rehabilitation centre at the hospital for a wide range of conditions including burns, amputees, tropical diseases and children and young adults with HIV and AIDS.
‘I had to do a lot of development work with other medical staff, especially the doctors who thought a physiotherapist was just someone who gave out crutches and plaster casts, I had to blow their minds away by showing them what physiotherapists could do,’ she says.
With just one physiotherapy assistant to work alongside her, Ms Fletcher spent the first 18 months in a office she describes as the ‘size a broom cupboard’ in which to treat patients, after which she managed to convince the hospital to let her take over a disused ward.
‘It was at this stage our work really opened up ... however, on occasion I really had to fight to do anything. There is a traditionally medical model in Uganda.
The doctor is way up there and everyone else is three feet below,’ she explains.
Ms Fletcher also admits it was a challenge to get patients to join in and participate in their own rehabilitation.
‘It was also a challenge working with a Ugandan physiotherapist who had been trained in a way that meant a lot of passive physiotherapy and massage, so I helped trained him as well.’
In her time at the hospital Ms Fletcher trained three physiotherapy assistants and has contributed to the training of a Ugandan physiotherapist, ensuring the service is self-sustaining.
She also provided supervision to UK physiotherapy students and newly-qualified staff on elective placements.
Described by her colleagues as inspirational, she had to work hard to obtain vital pieces of physio equipment.
‘There are three paediatric walking frames, for example, which my first UK physiotherapy students brought from the UK that are still going strong,’ she says.
Ms Fletcher made the decision to come back to the UK in March 2012 to be closer to her family but admits it was ‘very hard to leave’.
‘I am sad not to be there but delighted that the physiotherapy team I left behind is continuing to grow and develop.’ fl
Name: Alison Fletcher
- 1999: Qualified as physiotherapist, University of Southampton
- 1999 to 2002 Physiotherapist, Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust
- 2002 to 2012 Kiwoko Hospital, Uganda. CSP fellowship
- 2013 Clinical care coordinator for follow up care for children with aquired brain injury, Queen’s Medical Centre
Number of subscribers: 0