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Allied Health Professionals can help deliver a healthy workforce

NHS England’s Chief Allied Health Professions Officer calls on the AHP workforce to engage in the delivery of a £5m initiative to improve the health and wellbeing of health service staff:

Last month NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens announced a £5m initiative to support wellbeing initiatives for his staff saying: “The NHS has got to lead by example in helping our own staff and hopefully other employers will follow suit.”

There are a number of challenges to introducing this sort of initiative to an organisation as complicated and vast as the NHS but, as one of the largest employers in the world, we also recognise the benefits.

I want to encourage the NHS to use its dietetic workforce to assist in the delivery of Simon Stevens’ initiative for our organisation and also to recommend that other organisations looking for advice use a dietitian.

The focus of the initiative includes reasons for sickness absence, while supporting staff to stay well to benefit them and their service users.

Allied Health Professionals have the skills and expertise to prevent and manage a range of long term conditions which affect individual wellbeing and organisational productivity.

Our NHS workforce is a microcosm of society in terms of age, gender, income and ethnicity and I would urge AHPs to make themselves heard in the bid to benefit both staff and taxpayers.

A new White Paper from an AHP organisation, the British Dietetic Association ‘Supporting healthier working lives through dietitian-led wellness initiatives’, recognises that some unhealthy practices can be influenced by the working environment.

For instance, healthcare workers are more likely to work in environments with irregular shifts, and thus may experience more barriers to achieving regular eating and exercise patterns. While shift workers are also more at risk of developing obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disorders.

AHPs – particularly dietitians – have the expertise to implement multi-level prevention strategies for these conditions.

Long-term conditions such as depression and musculoskeletal disorders are the biggest cause of sickness absence for NHS employees. Small ‘nudges’ can create behaviour change, improving health.

When implemented by experts like dietitians and other AHPs, these techniques can be effectively implemented across organisations to reduce healthcare costs and absenteeism and improve productivity.

Good nutrition and hydration, alongside other healthy habits and good employment practices, keep the UK workforce healthy and productive. And I believe the Allied Health Professions have among them people with the training and experience to deliver a healthier NHS workforce.

  • More information about the BDA’s work around workplace health, including the white paper, can be found at www.bdaworkready.co.uk.
  • For regular updates on the Allied Health Professions follow @WeAHPs
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 as a Visiting Professor at St George’s, University of London.

Follow Suzanne on Twitter @SuzanneRastrick or Instagram @chief_ahp_officer_england

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