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Allied Health Professionals Day 2020: Blazing a Trail in Research

Allied Health Professionals Day 2020: Blazing a Trail in Research

National AHP’s day on October 14th is a great time to celebrate the achievements of our Allied Health Professions, and to share and be proud of their impact over a vast range of health and social care settings.  AHPs continue to take on increasingly prominent and diverse roles, often leading the way in developing and evaluating new models of care.  Increasing numbers are also fulfilling the goals set out in the National Institute for Research (NIHR) strategy to enable AHPs to ‘blaze a trail in research’. 

As the AHP Research Champion for Yorkshire and Humber, appointed by the NIHR and the Council for Allied Health Professions Research (CAHPR), I am always particularly excited to hear about colleagues who are changing clinical practice through research. To find out if AHPs in the NHS feel they have the skills and support they need to engage in research activities, the national network of AHP Research Champions is planning a survey early in 2021… but more about that later.

Since AHPs day last year, the Covid-19 pandemic has, of course, dramatically changed the landscape for health and social care.  Parts of Yorkshire and the Humber have been among some of the hardest hit regions in the UK. The last 8 months have seen AHPs step up alongside their medical, nursing and other health and social care colleagues, to face the multiple challenges brought by the arrival of the pandemic.  Many AHPs have been drafted in to support frontline clinical services as part of the emergency response, whilst other important clinical services have been temporarily closed and research studies paused.  

As we start to pick up the pieces following the initial crisis response, AHPs are again in a position to lead the way in resetting more responsive and streamlined healthcare services - services that are better suited to current and future demands. 

As a physiotherapist, I know that many of my colleagues are involved in setting up and delivering Covid-19 rehabilitation pathways, and the  Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has taken a leading role in developing standards and highlighting the need for such services.  Across Yorkshire and Humber, including in Leeds where I work, AHPs are also involved in a growing number of research studies evaluating the acute and long-term effects, outcomes and wider impact of the virus.  On a more personal level, many of my AHP colleagues are also contributing to the growing knowledge about Covid-19 and its impact through participation in local and national studies and surveys. This has undoubtedly shone a spotlight on the importance of systematic research processes to generate robust and reliable evidence and to help find effective healthcare solutions.

Health technology and digital options have been rapidly adopted in many healthcare settings in response to the pandemic and are now widely used for delivering services, monitoring and communicating with patients, and providing alternative ways to empower and support patients to self-manage.  AHPs are often taking the lead on these innovative approaches and are therefore well placed to lead the research needed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of these new ways of working.

Even before the recent pandemic, the NHS long-term plan recommended wider development of Advanced Practice roles for AHPs to reduce the burden on medical and other healthcare professions and help meet the increasing demands on health and social care services. The need for these roles has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. AHPs working as Advanced Practitioners not only provide high quality clinical care, but are also expected to be active leaders, educators and researchers.  The challenges and rapid changes of the last few months have shone a spotlight on the vital role of research as one of the four pillars of advanced practice in developing, evaluating and implementing new models of care and treatments.  As the importance of research in clinical practice becomes increasingly recognised, AHPs are in a great position to grasp opportunities both to lead innovative clinical practice, but also to design, lead and implement the research evidence that underpins effective new models of care.

This brings me back to the AHP Research Survey.  Please look out for the survey from your AHP Research Champions network, supported by CAHPR and NIHR. The survey will be circulated via AHP professional bodies and social media channels early in 2021.  This will be the first ever survey to find out how AHPs in the NHS feel about their ability to engage in research activities, and we want to hear from everyone, including those who currently have no experience or confidence in their research skills,  and those who are already well-established in research-active roles.  Your responses will help us understand what AHPs need to design, support, lead, deliver and implement the research that will underpin better models of health care in the future. 

Enjoy your AHP Day celebrations, whatever you are doing. And let’s keep striving to provide the best possible care by pushing the boundaries of what our Allied Health Professions can achieve.

Dr Christine Comer
NIHR Clinical Lecturer, Associate Professor, Spinal Advanced Physiotherapy Practitioner
NIHR/ CAHPR Allied Health Professional Research Champion Yorkshire & Humber
Leeds Community Healthcare Musculoskeletal & Rehabilitation Services