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Thinking outside the box

Can Associate members, who are physiotherapy, therapy or rehabilitation assistants, achieve career opportunities beyond NHS band 4 roles? 

Thinking outside the box
Thinking outside the box [Photos: Mark Bullimore]

We are frequently asked by our Associate members what further career opportunities are possible for them beyond band 4, or equivalent roles in other sectors. They ask us is that even achievable? The answer is unequivocally yes! 

You might say, and I hope you would, that we’ve been ahead of the game in our thinking on support workers at the CSP. I believe we have, and we’ve been working hard over a number of years to influence others in this area. Well, it’s been a long time coming but I’m pleased to say that at a policy level across the UK, we are now beginning to see a greater focus on support worker education, development and career progression opportunities. 

As attention turns to this agenda it is vital that services begin to consider how they will address it locally. Leaders must think about how they can innovate with support worker roles to maximise the impact of the capability and experience of this vital workforce in their services and teams. 

One service at North West Anglia NHS Trust is addressing this locally. Through the development of an innovative role they are ensuring that there is just as much attention paid to the support, development, education and training of their therapy support workforce as there is to their registered therapy workforce. And who better to drive this initiative than a support worker? 

CSP Associate member and experienced therapy assistant practitioner Christie Devon was recently appointed to the role of support worker educator at North West Anglia NHS Trust. And guess what? It’s a role that quite rightly is NHS band 5. She and Susan Bentley, the rehabilitation manager and AHP lead at North West Anglia, share with us their experiences and advice on this development and the impact it is having. 

Workforce planning

Susan believes it is important to frequently step back and review skill mix across services, working persistently towards a workforce structure that truly meets the needs of local patients, populations and staff. Alongside this she advocates for a strong local career development offer, to enable services to recruit and retain a diverse and talented workforce. With an eye on the national context for support workers, she has worked tirelessly to ensure this approach in her own services is inclusive of the support workforce and that they are fully considered in all workforce development plans. 

Last year, this keen eye meant that Susan reviewed a vacant support worker post. Historically banded at band 5, she considered how adapting this post to create a new role of support worker educator might address a gap in bespoke support for the support workforce in her services. Susan felt there was a gap for her support workforce with no one dedicated to the teaching, training and on the job support that would help her to ensure support staff were truly invested in and their skills maximised. She set about scoping this new support worker educator role.

She said: ‘I was fortunate to have a forward-thinking and supportive Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP) who I worked closely with who agreed that the new role did not require to go back through a local job evaluation process. The HRBP agreed with my logic that the education and qualifications, experience, skills and aptitudes were fundamentally unchanged.’

Far from anyone questioning a new support worker role at band 5, Susan reports that the role has been well received by all staff.

In particular she states ‘registered staff…recognise the value the role brings’ and how it frees them up to focus where their specific knowledge and skills are best used.   

Christie, who was appointed to the role, credits her vast experience as a therapy assistant practitioner and commitment to her own training and education as being pivotal to landing the job. She also believes that her involvement as a member in the CSP

Associate member support worker reference group and the leadership opportunities this has provided, gave her the confidence to excel at interview. 

The fact that she is a support worker gives her particular credibility in the role. Susan said Christie provides genuine empathy and is an authentic advocate for support staff, providing an understanding of the particular challenges support staff face in a way that a registered member of staff cannot.   

Impact

Christie’s role is hugely varied and she loves it. She is passionate about the capability of the support workforce. In the support worker educator role she has gained an opportunity to advocate for the development and inclusion of the support workforce in numerous ways. 

This involves being a voice for her peers when important workforce decisions are made, providing mentoring, ensuring staff have access to training and development opportunities, and making sure certain staff are appropriately trained and supported to develop and maintain the competencies they require to perform at the height of the scope of their roles.  

She also works closely with the AHP clinical skills facilitator for AHP students, ensuring pre-registration therapy students joining the trust on placement understand the role of the support worker. Two additional key aspects of her role include support worker recruitment and making sure new starters are properly inducted. Part of her role going forwards will be looking into the delivery of the Care Certificate in her organisation and making certain it is inclusive of AHP support workers in its delivery.

What has this meant for staff in the services Christie supports? There has been positive feedback from the registered staff, she says: “I have been doing a lot of work lately with the support workers around their competencies. And the registered members of staff have said that with the encouragement and support given to them to complete this task, the support workers are becoming more confident in their roles – which is fantastic.’ 

Christie adds she’s noticed support staff feeling comfortable to speak up to her and coming to her for career advice. They see her as someone who really understands their role and their unique issues.  

Advice to others

To fellow leaders and managers thinking about their support workforces, Susan says it is critical to develop them to optimise their capability in new and innovative ways. She sees that this needs to happen in order to release capacity in the registered workforce and advises leaders to think really creatively about ways they might do this. 

Susan firmly believes that innovations such as the role she’s developed, are crucial to show the support workforce that we are serious about their value to patient care and the services they work in. She states quite simply ‘we really couldn’t manage without them’.

To encourage her peers who might aspire to similar roles, Christie suggests support workers find a mentor, someone to support them and encourage them and also someone in their service who will fight their corner. 

She recommends support workers should take advantage of every training and development opportunity and knock on doors to find what’s available. Christie is currently undertaking the NHS Leadership Academy Edward Jenner programme – free for staff at any level in the NHS. She has also applied to be a mental health first aider in her organisation, committing to be fully equipped to support anyone she supervises who might be experiencing issues with their mental health.   

When asked how she feels about her role, Christie says she loves her job and feels she has been given an opportunity to fulfil her potential by a forward-thinking management team, and senses the future is bright for the support workforce. And yes, it is possible to work in a role above band 4 as a support worker in the NHS.

Visit our Associate hub to find all our resources to support role development and career progression for support workers.

Did you know?

All CSP members can search for a mentor through the mentoring platform

This includes Associate members who are support workers and looking for someone to support them to achieve their career goals, or looking to be a mentor themselves.  

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