Allied Health Professions: the future now

The Chief Allied Health Professions Officer previews her fourth annual conference which will be held in London tomorrow:

The theme of this year’s conference is ‘The Future Now’.

So what could be more fitting to demonstrate how relevant that title is than by reflecting briefly on the how far the Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) have come in recent years?

Just three years ago, at the first conference staged in 2015, there were 250 delegates. Tomorrow I am hosting the fourth annual conference with more than 540 delegates registered to attend, together with 19 high profile exhibitors.

This just serves to demonstrate the growing interest and significance of the conference and of the role of the Allied Health Professions within the NHS. And it is no coincidence that with this increased significance and focus, we will have Chief Executive Simon Stevens, and NHS England’s previous CEO, Sir David Nicholson, as just two of our high profile speakers.

As the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday in July, this is an ideal time for Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) to reflect on how they and their contribution to the health and care system have changed.  With that in mind, the theme for this year’s conference is reflecting on the past to embrace for the future now.

Key topics of this year’s conference are innovations in digital, leadership and integration.

Innovation is in the AHPs’ blood. It has always been part of our solution focused professions.

Some of the earliest innovators in the NHS were AHPs, including Ethel Armstrong MBE who was employed in the NHS from its commencement in 1948. As a radiographer, she recognised that her patients had limited access to breast screening and so pioneered the first mobile unit from a van that she purchased for £5 from Littlewoods

Our keynote speakers this year have been invited to inspire and encourage AHPs to continue to be innovative and lead the way just as Ethel did; seeing a need and making a change.

The opening sessions focus on digital and integration: digital development is high on all agendas at the moment. AHPs are already leaders here, having developed our national framework AHPs into Action through crowdsourcing.  Juliet Bauer, Chief Digital Officer at NHS England, will share with us how digital solutions can empower people through tools to support patients and clinicians to services that use technology as part of the day job.

People are our biggest resource, and we have two keynote speakers who will reflect on the importance of understanding the workforce, the people that make up our teams and integrating services. Professor Caroline MacEwen, Chair, Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, will share her reflections on creating teams and teamwork and the importance of this in leading the shape of future healthcare. While Andy Rhodes, the Chief Constable of the Lancashire Constabulary will remind us that we are all human and that we need to connect with this is delivering high quality, efficient and effective services.

The conference’s afternoon sessions will focus on leadership, with a keynote speech from Simon Stevens, followed by David Nicholson, Chair of Worcester Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, who will share his perspectives of leadership from the varying roles he has held.

After celebrating the NHS 70th birthday with an afternoon tea party, Justin Varney, Consultant in Public Health Medicine for Public Health England, will challenge us to look to the future of the healthcare and the world and ask what do we need to be doing differently now.

There will also be an opportunity to attend seminar sessions themed around the commitments in AHPS into Action, hosted by the national AHP leadership team across the four arms-length bodies and filled with examples from practice to learn from. At lunch time AHP colleagues from STP areas will host and co-produce a “lunch and share” focused on the strategies they have developed to support their system.

Tomorrow’s conference has a very full and exciting agenda – but then so is the future, and we should start addressing it now.

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

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