Jane Nicklin works for the East of England Strategic Health Authority as an allied health professional lead. Her role fits within MAHPC – Modernising Allied Health Professional Careers. She is currently working with the Department of Health on a secondment.
Jane brought a huge amount of experience to this project, having worked as a physiotherapist for 30 years and practising up to ten years ago. She is one of the region’s leading professionals in workforce, education and development, so was an invaluable member of the Employment Stakeholder Group.
“My involvement in this particular project was mainly to help the Group focus on workforce planning as part of future employment strategy for physiotherapists. My professional background as a physiotherapist meant that I could impart knowledge of what had and hadn’t worked in previous years, particularly in relation to forecasting supply and demand for positions.
“I have a keen interest in the physiotherapy profession, having spent much of my career in this area. The profession itself plays a major part in preventing long-term health problems by keeping a wide range of patients of all ages mobile, whether they have physical problems caused by illness, accident or ageing.
“The role is evolving. Today's physiotherapist is just as likely to work in the local community as within a hospital. Treatment and advice for patients and carers take place in their own homes, in nursing homes or day centres, in schools and in health centres.
“In 2005/6 when the unemployment situation for physiotherapy graduates worsened, the profession suffered a period of uncertainty. The numbers of unemployed graduates rose as did the lack of positions. Previous forecasting had not worked particularly well, leaving greater room for improvement in the future.
“Workforce planning can often be deemed difficult as sophisticated modelling is required. In addition to these tools however, you need to encourage open communication between all parties involved. The wheels were already in motion in this region.
The East of England Strategic Health Authority was part of a system that places graduates from ten universities in the south of England; a good example of collaborative working between higher educational institutes and the NHS. We needed to work harder to align the number of commissioned student places to the demand for newly-qualified physiotherapists. For the future, it was clear that workforce planning needed to become embedded across all organisations involved in this process.
“This Employment Stakeholder Group gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss issues and solutions further with the regional universities and employers, NHS Employers, NHS Jobs, CSP and newly-qualified physiotherapists. We needed to ensure that this situation was not repeated in the future. In this particular project it was important to assess the use of the talent pool and to look at opportunities of future graduate supply matching service needs.
“One of the biggest challenges for this project was to get the key managers within the Trusts fully engaged with our objectives. We made a strong case for partnership-working from the outset by offering support and helping employers to think about the role of the physiotherapist more creatively, rather than in a traditional setting. We took a several pronged attack and had discussions at all levels including regional groups, human resource managers, clinical managers and chief executives of trusts.
“Before employers put forward business cases for funding for the fifty twelve-month physiotherapy contracts, we encouraged them to think outside the box and to consider how the particular role would benefit the patient and help deliver cost-efficiencies. Some trusts were clearly more receptive to change and in taking a more flexible workforce approach.
“Overall I think that one of the most successful outcomes from this project; apart from reducing the numbers of unemployed graduates; was that we had successfully challenged the standard view of a physiotherapist’s role. They are hopefully no longer pigeon-holed and likely to be considered for a wider remit. This might involve working in paediatrics and in more community-based roles."