Aug 16

Occupational therapists deserve to be recognised as a vital, vibrant, and user focussed element of the workforce

Posted: 2 August 2016

Julia ScottSkills for Care is proud to have taken part in the College of Occupational Therapists 40th annual conference.  Guest blogger Julia Scott, Chief Executive Officer at the College of Occupational Therapists, says occupational therapists deserve to be recognised as a vital, vibrant, and user focussed element of the workforce.

Why is it that even when we all know something to be true, we still fail to recognise it? Is it because we are resistant to change, afraid of the unknown, stuck in the ‘same old, same old’ model?

I hope that none of these explanations are true for the social care sector, but I do think that sometimes we only pay lip service to the need for an appropriately sized workforce with the optimum mix of skills and competencies.

There is a wealth of evidence that highlights occupational therapy improves lives and saves money (for details check out http://cotimprovinglives.com/) and yet, occupational therapists remain a very small part of the social care sector workforce, meaning some people will never benefit from occupational therapy interventions despite high levels of need.  

Whilst nurses are recognised as a key part of the care home workforce, and social workers regarded as the core profession of  ‘social services’ departments, OTs are seldom referred to. Some would say, and they would be right, that this is because occupational therapy has not been the subject of high profile external reviews following investigations into human tragedies or cases of horrifyingly poor practice linked to vulnerable people; but can OTs comfort themselves that a lack of negative stories means positive regard?

No, that in itself is not enough, OTs deserve to be recognised as a vital, vibrant, and user focussed element of the workforce, whatever the service delivery setting.

When I was appointed to my first OT post in the social care sector, the local authority I worked for had a principal occupational therapist who led the service, managed and supervised the staff and created new and innovative models to enable us to meet  people’s needs. Following the serious case review in to the death of Baby Peter, principal social worker posts were established in almost all local authorities, and, even better, a chief social worker post was created at the Department of Health (DH).

But at the same time, principal occupational therapists, and other OT leadership posts, were being cut and many experienced local authority OTs now feel that their opportunity to lead, shape and contribute to new multi-disciplinary service models has been lost.

Skills for Care are to be thanked for being one of the few social care agencies that has recognised that the sector’s regulated workforce is not just comprised of social workers and nurses.  Together we have learnt how to craft messages that apply to all registered staff, and how to develop products that enable all staff to deliver better quality services.  

It can only be hoped that other agencies in the sector will follow suit and reach out to the College, who will not only welcome their approach but also happily engage with them. And when DH create a chief occupational therapist post, truly joined up planning and service delivery will follow, meaning those in need will benefit from a client centred and integrated approach, and improved and holistic care and support.