Support workers need equitable access to CPD

Associate members should have equal access to CPD opportunities to allow growth and development, writes CSP professional adviser Claire Fordham

Support workers
Advice to support growth and development of the profession’s current and future workforce

Continuing professional development (CPD) in healthcare is fundamental for ensuring all staff practice safely and effectively. This requires everyone to regularly update their knowledge and skills in order to meet the evolving and changing healthcare needs of service users. 

Committing to undertake CPD is the responsibility of every individual working in healthcare services, regardless of level of practice or role and is set out in the Principles for continuing professional development and lifelong learning in health and social care prepared by the inter-professional CPD and lifelong learning UK working group in 2019. This document also sets out that employers have an equal responsibility to support staff to access opportunities to undertake CPD activities. 

CPD inequity for the support workforce 

It’s now two years since the launch of these principles and eight years since Camilla Cavendish published her review of healthcare assistants and support workers in the NHS and social care. The review highlighted the system’s woeful attention to the education and training of the non-registered workforce. 

It therefore seems shocking that I still hear stories from our Associate members of how they are denied access to CPD and the study leave to undertake it on account of it ‘being of no benefit to the service’. 

It’s an uncomfortable notion to raise, but I have sensed for a long time that a continued failure to acknowledge the importance of the knowledge and skills of the healthcare support workforce to the provision of safe, high quality care, underlies this attitude. The result is a significant minority of our support workforce feeling that their on-going development deserves no more attention than some ad hoc practical skills training. That’s not to dismiss the value of in-house skills training, rather to point out that the contribution of the support workforce to patient safety, optimal outcomes of care, and service efficiency, extends far beyond the delivery of clinical care tasks. Access to CPD that enables support workers to attend to their evolving role in all domains of practice must be on a par with that granted to the registered workforce.      

Standing together 

Sadly, it came as no surprise that when we reached out to the professional bodies and trade union partners of the other allied health professions (AHP), these partners shared similar stories from their own support workforces. It seems the struggle to access quality CPD and the study leave to support this is not unique to the physiotherapy support workforce. It was for this reason that after a period of working together, the CSP and these 13 other organisations published a consensus statement on this issue in May.  

In this statement the coalition pledge to:

  • lobby for consistent and equitable access to continued professional development for the AHP support workforce.
  • highlight the role and contribution of the AHP support workforce nationally.
  • work with UK governments and relevant arm’s length bodies to bring about change in order to increase the number of AHP support workers and ensure they have consistent access to appropriate education, training and development that enables them to thrive.
  • take action to increase equity, diversity and belonging within the AHP support workforce.
  • support the development and implementation of career frameworks and supporting resources. 

This is a huge step forward in raising the issues of limited access to and support for equitable education, training and development for AHP support workers, to national policy makers.  

vPUK for CPD in all domains of practice 

If you agree with the assertion I made earlier, that access to CPD which enables support workers to attend to their education and development in all domains of practice must be on a par with that granted to the registered workforce, there is no better way to address this than supporting Associate members to attend Physiotherapy UK. 

Once again this year the CSP’s flagship scientific conference will be delivered as a virtual event, known as vPUK 21.

Delivered on a platform that is much livelier than a webinar, delegates (who attend as avatars) can interact with each other and meet up with friends as well as access the formal programme of learning and development, all with the feeling of being at a physical ‘live’ event. 

The programme this year has four themes:

  1. evolving practice;
  2. transforming provision;
  3. the rehab challenge and
  4. digital transformation.

The majority of content delivered in each theme will be at the very least informative for members at all levels of practice with potential to change practice for many, including Associate members. 

Making the case 

If you are an Associate member and you would like to attend vPUK this year, now is the time to make your case.  And even if you can’t join the conference on 5-6 November, the conference fee of £49 provides access to numerous recorded sessions after the event.    

Have a look at the vPUK conference website and ask the following questions:

  • What would I gain from attending Physiotherapy UK? (formal timetabled sessions and networking opportunities).
  • How would learning from the event enhance the quality of the service I can offer people on my caseload?  Be explicit about how the learning outcomes link to service priorities. For example, the ‘In the Spotlight’ session at 11am on 5 November aims to support delegates to understand barriers faced by people with intellectual disabilities in accessing healthcare and the consequences of this. This session will provide invaluable learning for Associate members in all areas of practice. This is because support workers spend significant time with service users; they are frequently the individual in a team who knows service users and their families better than anyone else. As a result the support workforce are in an ideal position to identify and take action on health inequalities. Consider therefore how you might frame the learning from this session to your own practice and the action you will subsequently be empowered to take to address health inequalities for your service users.      
  • How does the conference content match my objectives, service needs and organisational targets? Using the session above as an example again, you could highlight the importance of this learning to all colleagues in your team or service and set out how you intend to cascade it.  

Use this analysis to prepare and submit an application for funding and or study leave. By being explicit about how the learning outcomes from specific sessions link to both personal and departmental objectives and service priorities, you will be able to show how your organisation’s investment in your CPD would benefit service users and the service.

Finally, I urge Associate members reading this article to consider attending vPUK this year and to leaders and managers, please support any applications for funding and study leave from your support workforce to attend (should they identify it as a way to meet professional and personal growth and development needs).  I hope to see many more Associate members at this year’s conference and look forward to meeting you (I’ll be the avatar called Claire Fordham that looks half my actual age and has far fewer grey hairs). 

The value of vPUK

Chris Richards is a physiotherapy technical instructor at Hywel Dda University Health Board at Bronglais General Hospital and Ceredigon Community Physiotherapy.

He is also a CSP Associate member. Chris attended vPUK last year. He shares his experience here and encourages Associate members to sign up. 

‘I absolutely loved vPUK last year; there was nothing there that I thought I did not understand or that was not relevant to my level of practice.

‘I work in both acute and community settings. One session that was particularly relevant to my role was a networking session called ‘mind the gap, improving transition between the acute and community physiotherapy services.’ 

Attending this improved my knowledge and understanding of the importance of ensuring patients discharged from hospital can access all they need in the community. Whenever I see a patient in the community now I am trying to look at the whole picture and make sure that people are being seen by the right services. This new way of thinking is clearly working, as I had some feedback by my manager last week informing me of how impressed a social worker was that I went above and beyond to make sure a patient who had just left hospital had the right equipment and support in place. 

Having up to date knowledge is crucial, no matter what level you work at and Physiotherapy UK is, after all, a physiotherapy event, so we need the whole physiotherapy workforce engaged in it.

I’m pleased to say it’s clear my manager sees this. I only had to wait 10 minutes after putting in a study leave form to gain approval for this year’s event.’

Fellow Associate member and rehabilitation assistant JC Bird from Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust NHS Trust adds:

‘I loved the massive amount of learning opportunities at vPUK, particularly regarding new and upcoming changes to practice, from the lectures and especially the posters of current research and improvement projects.’

More information

Read the full consensus statement here:

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