Stepping up

The CSP is encouraging support workers to step up and become stewards. Hayley Gibson explains how you don’t need to be a senior physiotherapist to be a CSP rep

Hayley Gibson
Hayley Gibson [Photos: Joanne O’Brien]

She played topflight women’s football, got a diploma in sports and fitness therapy and now leads CSP members on the picket lines.

Hayley Gibson’s journey from a safety rep to steward shows how a support worker can take on these roles and give leadership. 

She is a band 4 community physiotherapy technical instructor and steward at a large community trust, Berkshire Healthcare, which has 150 CSP members.

Hayley developed her interest in becoming a steward by helping lead the CSP response to several difficult service reorganisations. One outcome was that four support workers signed up to CSP membership.

It was one of the ‘extra’ things she has taken on that are traditionally thought of as being just for a registered physio and is an example of how leadership can be at any level. 

Hayley played every sport going at secondary school and had a career in football for quite a few years as right-back for Reading in the women’s super league.

‘I had two children, and when they were tiny, I qualified as a sports therapist, straight after A levels. I did that for two years but it was a bit of a toll as my family came first.’

She looked into working for the NHS.

‘I was always interested in developing how the body worked and what we did. One of my college lecturers asked if I’d ever thought about physiotherapy. I looked up what the profession was, what it entailed. Because I didn’t have the qualifications needed to get into physiotherapy, I thought what do I need to get into the NHS? I started off just looking at how I could help people and started that way, because that was always my goal to be helping and doing things for the community.’

Support worker

Hayley got a job in administration in an NHS physio department.

Hayley Gibson
Hayley Gibson [Photos: Joanne O’Brien]

‘My boss said they’d never had any support workforce in the team and asked in an appraisal if I’d be interested in a role. 

‘I thought that sounds brilliant. I’d love to be face to face with a patient, having that development, and knowing that I’ve sort of helped them a little bit more in their rehab.’

She became a support worker, as a physio assistant, in an outpatient clinic at Dellwood Hospital, and did that for nine years.

Hayley started doing lower limb and back classes and seeing patients.

She became the person who was inducting the work experience people and trained up on different pieces of equipment ‘doing all the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) stuff and being infection control champion for the department.’

‘But you really need to be ploughing on. But there wasn’t any sort of progression for me within outpatients. I sort of peaked to the top.

‘It became a bit of a sticky point. I really wanted to do my degree in physiotherapy, I just didn’t have the means to take myself out of full-time work, do the degree, pay for it.’

Hayley looked into different areas of the NHS to develop her knowledge and skills around how different physiotherapists work within the trust and where they needed some form of support.

She’s been in the job of community physiotherapy technical instructor for six years.

Developing in the role – with her own caseload of patients – led to her looking into progressing her role representing CSP members. 

I was a safety rep for a couple of years and thought I’m really enjoying this, having members speak to me, trying to help them out if I can, or finding where I can get help for them. 

‘I really enjoyed communicating with senior people in the trust, and it helped me open up my communication skills, but also how to communicate correctly with people, or how to get that knowledge of knowing how the trust works, and how people can be supported in that way.

‘But I felt like I’d done this as much as I can do.’ Hayley was encouraged by another CSP steward Julia Prince to take on a steward role within the trust. ‘And a spot came up.’

‘So now I’m sat on meetings and speaking to HR and all the directors. I find the trust really supportive with it all, I find it a great way to have the support workers’ voice in there, and believe in myself that I can, just because my band says that I’m this, doesn’t mean that I don’t have the opinion or the ability to actually say to people “This isn’t right,” “Something needs to be changed or looked at.”

Steward role

Stewards receive paid time off from their work to fulfil the role. Hayley explained how she found time for her steward duties: 

‘If you don’t have a focus or a passion for what you are doing then you do let it slip a little bit, but if you’ve got that drive to make sure that members are heard, and you’re pushing yourself forward, then you have to let a little bit of your own time within that role. I don’t think you would be able to do your job as well as do the rep role effectively if you’re not putting an extra little bit in. It’s about not just making sure that members are being heard, but that you know you’re fulfilling your role to how you want it to be fulfilled. How it looks for you as a person and how it develops you in that side of your career as such.’

Asked what she enjoyed most about the rep role Hayley said: ‘Knowing that I can be that voice for somebody who is not as confident or direct.’

And collaborating with other union reps in different health professions on how members can feel heard and comfortable in their environment in work.

Staff wellbeing

‘A big thing for me is staff’s health and wellbeing. I know all the little policies and procedures come in effect with it. But my big drive and my passion is staff wellbeing in their work environment, they are where they want to be and are happy to be and enjoy working as a physio.’

And for any support worker thinking of being a rep? ‘Go for it, don’t feel afraid, stand up, speak up.’ ‘It’s also a really good way of meeting like-minded people, how you want things to go, or even just how the trust that you’re working for actually works.

Instead of just being that person that comes in and out the door every day. It’s understanding how those little cogs behind the background work, and how you can help change the direction of how that is working for you and members.

Hayley successfully demonstrated the leadership skills needed to act as picket line supervisor at Wokingham hospital on 26 January.

It was her first picket line. She got there at 8am and was there for an hour on her own.

‘It was daunting, to say the least. When I think about strikes, picket lines, what people might think of you, you think “Oh, no, should we be doing this, is this the right thing to be doing?”

‘I think it was only because I’ve not long been a steward, and it was the case of all I felt like was this was quite a big responsibility and trying to get members to understand why we were doing it, and how it benefits them as well as, overall, within the NHS.

‘Am I doing it right, for the right reasons? How am I going to react in those situations? If you get negativity from somebody else as well, from [the] public or other members, or anything you know, in the profession or other professions around the hospital.

‘I had a few members say to me “Well, you know, I’m old now, I don’t really need to be doing this.”

‘And I was like “No, you need to be out there, pushing us and making sure that the ones coming through are the ones that are being highlighted and raised to make the point”.’

They were saying “We’re going to lose a day’s wage.” My reply was, “How many extra over your contracted hours do you actually get paid for?” And they were “right.” Just think about that. Then you’re not actually losing a day at all.’

Hayley Gibson
Hayley Gibson [Photos: Joanne O’Brien]


Leadership for Hayley doesn’t mean that you have to be in a certain bracket. 

‘I see myself being a low-level leader, I think that’s probably where you start off from. You find that OK, I’m quite happy to just sort of sit at this band and help make sure that this level of support is there, at that level.

‘But I think once you start to realise that you’re heard and your opinions matter that’s when you then start to realise that it doesn’t matter what band I am, what qualifications I have, that if I don’t try and lead this or become that figure of leadership then nothing will change, nothing sort of happens.

‘It’s a bit of a skill to develop, I must admit, and I never used to be one to rock the boat, as they say, or push the boundaries. But since having a bit more knowledge and having the encouragement from other physios or stewards and representatives and members then you start to feel that everyone counts, everyone matters.

‘It might be that that one thing that you don’t say is the one thing that will make it easier for everybody, or make the service run effectively and more efficiently.’

CSP senior negotiating officer Penny Bromley said: ‘Hayley’s known for measured and calm approaches to the problems she supports members with, she’s very motivated and clear and looking to be a great steward.’ 

Take up a role

CSP trade union organising officer Iain Croker pointed out that CSP chief executive Karen Middleton and director Claire Sullivan were both stewards.

‘The CSP provides full training and support for both associate and full members to take up a role.

‘Our residential and online induction courses for stewards and safety reps are accredited by the National Open College (NOCN) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

‘This means that they are NOCN-recognised courses and stewards, and safety reps earn credits that are part of the national qualification’s framework. Both induction courses are worth six credits, which is enough credits to receive the TUC Award for Trade Union Health & Safety Representatives.’

You will receive time off from work to complete your training and fulfil your role. Why not take advantage of our free training and develop your career by becoming a CSP steward or safety rep? Interested? Visit Become a Steward or contact our organisers by email 

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