Birthday Honours: Queen grants OBE to pioneering digital health physio

A physiotherapist who has helped enhance the digital capability of health professionals in Scotland has been recognised in the Queen’s 2020 Birthday Honours list, announced today.

Dr Lesley Holdsworth OBE

Lesley Holdsworth, who trained as a physiotherapist and is now the Scottish Government’s clinical lead for digital health and care, has been made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of her services to physiotherapy and health services.

Dr Holdsworth, who lives in Newport on Tay, in Fife, told Frontline that receiving an OBE was ‘truly humbling’ and she felt honoured to have her work and efforts recognised in this way.

‘When I heard about this award, it was in the darkest days on May, the height of the pandemic, and I did a little dance! It’s such a bright thing at such a dark time,’ she said.

‘I have always been proud to be a physiotherapist and to have contributed to furthering our practice, professionalism and the impact we make on the lives of so many, and I have no doubt that our inspirational leaders will continue to take us to places we can never imagine.

‘So being recognised by my peers in such a way, there are no meaningful words - just thank you, it means so much!

Leading the strategic direction of health care in Scotland


Over the last 25 years, Dr Holdsworth has spearheaded a range of multi-professional initiatives - both at a national level and with a variety of professional and academic organisations.

This has included leading projects related to quality improvement, informatics, clinical guidance and research.

In her current role, she has responsibility forthe strategic direction of nursing, midwifery and the allied health professions (NMAHP) in Scotland, as well as digital issues affecting these professions, including informatics, digital practice and the development of a digitally enabled workforce.

In 2014, she helped to establish the national NMAHP Digital network, which now has over 1200 members.

‘My particular personal interest is in developing a digital enabled NMAHP workforce,’ she said.

‘‘I helped to devise and we [the Scottish Government] commissioned a national NMAHP digital leadership programme, which has seen over 250 graduates to date and which I support in many ways.

I’ve always been interested in how we use information to improve what we do.

'That has led me more recently down the digital route and my now part time job has exploded into a six day a week job due to Covid – I’m wondering when I can actually stop but these developments are so needed!

Developing a national MSK triage service


Before taking on her current role, Dr Holdsworth spent 10 years as the head of Health Services Research and Effectiveness for Scotland.

During this time, she oversaw the development, implementation and evaluation in Scotland of a national MSK triage service, which launched in 2010.

The service provides immediate phone access to advice and potential onward referral for callers to various health and care services, including physiotherapy.

In addition, a range of support resources have also been developed to support the service, including an app, an online service and even a TV channel – and these channels now provide this service to 70 per cent of the population in Scotland.

 ‘I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a calculated risk taker and not afraid to push the boundaries as I strongly believe that that is what a profession must continually do - seek to improve and move to the next level,’ Dr Holdsworth said.

My advice to anyone is be bold, think creatively, embrace innovations and strive to make your services better for those that need and use them.

‘Everything I have done in my career has been focused on making things better, better for our patients and the public who can benefit from services that include physio.

‘I have unashamedly challenged my peers to do the same and have found that once you engage at that level the results are liberating and all encompassing.’

Pioneering research into FCP and self-referral


In the 1990’s Dr Holdsworth carried out the first ever research into the efficacy of first contact physiotherapy (FCP), and this went on to become the subject of her PhD in 2002.

She went onto undertake national and international trials, which established that self-referral to physio services within the NHS and wider were safe and both clinically and cost effective.

‘This work took me all over the world, providing advice to national physiotherapy organisations, WCPT and IPPA,’ she said.

Developing future leaders


Although she hasn’t worked as a physiotherapist, clinically or managerially, since 1990, Dr Holdsworth remains ‘very proud of her physio roots’ and has continually strived to contribute and offer support to the profession.

Her passion for the profession has seen her serve on the CSP’s research and development, information technology, organising conference and professional wards committees; act as an advisor to the CSP and also mentor ‘many bright and able physiotherapists’ over the years.

‘In the last 10 years my focus has been on creating legacy and I have willingly put significant efforts into developing the leaders of the future as that is what it’s all about for me now,’ she said.

We have so many able individuals who need to get that support and actually hear that we can take very different career paths but still be true to the core values of physio and true ambassadors of our brilliant profession.

Award winner

From left: Robbie Pearson, chief executive of Healthcare Improvement Scotland,  Dr Lesley Holdsworth with the Scottish Digital Impact of the Year award (2018) and Stephen Jardine, journalist and broadcaster, who presented the awards

In addition to her OBE, during the course of her career Dr Holdsworth has also received a number of prestigious awards.

In 2006 she was chosen as the Overall Winner for Improving Access at the HSJ awards, and in 2018 she was named as both the Scottish and UK Digital Leader of the year.

She told Frontline: ‘I’ve made some really great, inspirational and wonderful friends through my physio life, who remain such close friends to this day.

I have truly enjoyed my career, its challenges, the people and the opportunities, and I have been truly fortunate.

Alongside her work for the Scottish Goverment, Dr Holdsworth is also chair of Bield Housing & Care, the largest housing association in Scotland.

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