Who are the therapy support workers?

We challenge you to take a minute to close your eyes and to think about the therapy support workers in your team.

Who are they? What exactly do they do to support your team, your own work and the wellbeing of your patients? Do you really understand the full extent of their role?   

Laura Bunce

Laura Bunce is a final year MSc student who has worked as a therapy assistant throughout her degree and is passionate about promoting the role of the support workers. She has been amazed at the innovative roles and responsibilities of many support workers across the country and has really enjoyed reaching out to them to hear their stories and views for the project. 

Elaine Paterson

Elaine Paterson is a final year MSc student who has only ever had experience of working with support workers whilst on clinical placement. Participating in this project has really opened her eyes to the true value of therapy support workers, and she has loved learning about the role and challenging herself about how she can make a change to the lives of the un-registered workforce, both as a student and upon graduation.  

Six weeks ago, we joined the CSP as colleagues on a non-clinical placement, where we were challenged to reflect on just this. We both recognised that therapy support workers are imperative to the running of any successful physiotherapy team, but our placement has opened our eyes to the true value of these, often undervalued, team members. 

On day one of our placement, we were tasked with developing “an engaging education resource which can be used by universities to educate pre-registration physiotherapy students to work inclusively, safely, effectively and respectfully with support workers.” 

You may be considering why this matters to you, but think about it; how often do you turn to a support worker to ask for help? Do you actually know how to delegate work to them? Were you ever taught this as a student?  

If not, you’re probably amongst the 81 per cent of students we surveyed who reported never having had any formal education about support workers at university. Despite this, almost all of the students we spoke to said they were completely comfortable with working effectively with these colleagues. When this was then assessed through clinical scenarios, it transpired that 70 per cent of the 400 or so students who took part did in fact not know how to delegate, or what the scope of practice actually was for support workers at different banding levels. This proves a clear need to better educate the future of our profession to be able to send them into the working world competent in their ability to work with support workers safely, effectively and respectfully.

Over the past six-weeks, we have taken the time to educate ourselves and challenge our unconscious biases about the role of the therapy support worker. We watched the CSP’s Thinking Differently video which illustrates the breadth of the roles and tasks that the support workers carry out day to day.

Until this point, we had no idea that a non-registered member of staff could work at a band 5 level or higher and had both incorrectly believed that to become a band 5 +, this required professional registration.

We did plenty of other wider reading and spoke with the associate reference group (a panel of therapy support workers, from across the UK and who work at different levels, and whose job it is to advise the CSP on matters which relate to them and their non-registered colleagues).

The support workers themselves told us that because the therapy support worker role is a career path in its own right, many enter the profession and remain in it for many years. Whilst they do not have a professional registration, they do have extensive on the job training and often are one of the most experienced members of a team. They are a source of pastoral support for students and although the support worker cannot formally assess students, they can instruct and teach students about their role, and guide them to develop the skills needed for their future careers.  

Reflecting on our newfound knowledge, we have become true advocates of the non-registered workforce and worked hard to produce an educational resource that higher education institutes can use to educate the pre-registration students who are the future of the profession about the workforce.

This includes helping students understand support workers job roles, scope of practice and how to effectively delegate work. Alongside this, we encourage students to spend time with support workers whilst on placement and really understand their job roles. We hope this will ensure the future profession better values the un-registered workforce and the incredible difference they make within the team and to the lives of our patients. 

Top tips

As a new graduate, you are in a fantastic place to uncover, and promote the value of the support workers you work with. To help you along the way to making a positive change, here are our top tips:

  •  watch the CSP’s Thinking Differently video and read the online resources about the role of the support worker
  • take some time to talk to the support workers in your team and really understand their job role, the issues they face and what they feel you can do to help
  • spend a day shadowing support workers in your team to really understand their role
  • reflect on your key learnings from these experiences and consider how you can make a change within your team
  • encourage the support workers you know to join the CSP as an associate member – there are lots of learning and development opportunities and support worker specific advice and support
  • encourage placement students to spend a day shadowing support workers in your team and help them to reflect on what they have learnt

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