Allied Health Professions listen: Inclusion and collaboration

In 2017 NHS England published our first strategy “Allied Health Professions (AHPs) Into Action”, which identified the transformative potential of Allied Health Professions (AHPs) and provided a framework demonstrating how our workforce could support the NHS. As AHPs it set out our collective commitments and priorities to deliver significant impacts for patients, their carers, and communities. Two years later, the NHS Long Term Plan committed to “further develop the national AHP strategy, AHPs into Action, to focus on the delivery of the Long-Term Plan”.

In January 2020 we began work on the successor to “AHPs into Action”. We planned to consult with citizens across England first and then ask Allied Health Professions to work collectively to suggest how the views given by citizens could be addressed. Finally, we would sense check the findings with both citizens and AHPs together. These three steps would enable us to co-develop a single vision for our next strategy. By so doing we are undertaking a generational first in healthcare strategy co-design with citizens. However, by March 2020, the NHS focus across England shifted to the COVID-19 pandemic response and the project was paused.

Fast forward a year and we have restarted this project. Like many services provided by AHPs across the country, the project has had to adapt and flex with the pandemic. While the project approach remains the same, the move to a majority digital space to develop the next strategy has required more consideration and extensive collaborative working. This was to ensure all voices are captured, especially given the pandemic has shone a further light on health inequalities and digital divides.

Our first action was to recruit an expert with lived experience to join our project team and to be our critical friend. We were delighted to welcome peer leader Rob Moriarty. Rob is a graduate of the Peer Leadership Development programme and an expert with lived experiences. Our next action was to forge links with NHS England and NHS Improvement teams including the Patient and Public Involvement; Personalised Care; Voluntary Charity and Community Sector teams. Alongside these groups the project team continue to work with both the Equality and Health Inequalities, and Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity teams.

Specific work had already been carried out before the pandemic with the NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE/I) learning disability and autism advisory group, the older people’s sounding board, and the children and young people’s group. This focused work continues and has expanded to include marginalised communities including: those who are homeless; gypsy roma, traveller communities; migrants, refugees; sex workers; people who use drugs (current or former) and those who have experienced the criminal justice system.

We acknowledge co-design is not a static process and we are continuously considering the inclusivity of this work. The NHSE/I Personalised Care strategic co-production group reviewed the wording and design of the first citizen conversation platform and co-created this with us. This meant citizens with a range of cultural and social backgrounds considered what the text and images applied within the first on-line conversation meant to them and how we could then pitch our digital platform to meet the needs of multiple audiences.

Our work with the learning disability and autism advisory group has helped shape accessibility for all. The NHS Public and Patient Involvement team have supported the creation of the on-line conversation demographic questionnaire. This piece of the jigsaw is important as the platform affords us the ability to monitor which parts of the community are responding and where there are gaps. We can then proactively carry out focused interventions to support the voices of all groups.

Although our approaches have changed, the essence of the project we are delivering now is the same as before the pandemic. That is, the vision of citizens being central to the co-design process and our commitment to hear voices from all communities. Our first on-line conversation for citizens closed on the 31 March 2021 and we were delighted that over 1,200 people joined the conversation and 4,300 contributions were made. On the 10 of May 2021 we launched our second conversation for the Allied Health Professions community. This remains open until 6:00pm on Tuesday the 1 of June 2021 and we are encouraging AHP students, the AHP support workforce and registered AHPs to sign-up and add their thoughts on what citizens have told us.

Suzanne Rastrick

Suzanne qualified as an Occupational Therapist from Oxford. Suzanne was the first Allied Health Professional (AHP) to hold a substantive Director of Nursing post in both provider and commissioning organisations. She became the Chief Executive of a Primary Care Trust, where a particular highlight was having leadership responsibility for delivering health resilience and health ‘blue light’ services during the Olympic sailing events held in Dorset in 2012. She subsequently gained authorisation for a large Clinical Commissioning Group, before moving to her current post with NHS England. She was appointed as Chief Allied Health Professions Officer for England in September 2014.

In 2017 Suzanne launched the first AHP strategy for England which has been recognised as ground-breaking in policy development from its use of crowdsourcing. Building on this, Suzanne published the second AHP strategy – ‘AHPs Deliver’ in June 2022. This iteration had a greater emphasis on patient, public voice and specifically the inclusion of those who may be digitally excluded along with communities who may find it difficult to connect with traditional consultation methods. The result is a national strategy crowdsourced from diverse populations for people and communities AHPs serve.

For over three decades, Suzanne has held non-executive portfolios outside of the NHS, including audit committee chair roles, predominantly in the housing and charitable sector. Suzanne was recognised as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s birthday honours list 2019. In 2023 Suzanne was awarded a Visiting Professor role at St George’s, University of London and at Oxford Brookes University.

Follow Suzanne on Twitter/X @SuzanneRastrick or Instagram @chief_ahp_officer_england