Opinions

AHP matchmaker engineering connections for relationships to build and flourish

Written by: Heather Hall, National Allied Health Professional Lead for Long Term Conditions and Coproduction, The ALLIANCE

Published: 09/05/2013

Allied Health Professionals are being supported to build relationships with the third sector.

Hullo, I am Heather Hall, and for three months now I have been in a new post as National Allied Health Professional lead for long term conditions and coproduction and what have I been doing with my time? In short, I’ve been finding my feet, shaking off the NHS shackles, embracing change and accepting new ways of working!

I’m based at the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE), a charity with over 270 members including a large network of national and local third sector organisations. It has a strong voice, strategic influence and functions as an umbrella body supporting disabled people and people who live with a long term condition and their unpaid carers. The principle thing I’ve noticed is its organisational positivity. I wish I could bottle it and then make my future fortune selling it to the NHS! The third sector is ‘up for change and innovation!’ – a far cry from  battle-scarred NHS employment! I really just want to bask……but alas, I have a job to do!

My role is to encourage integration across the Allied Health Professions (AHPs) and the third sector. Working as a Falls Lead and acute-based Physiotherapist, I knew very little about coproduction, or, the third sector prior to being in post – this phenomenon is sadly no doubt reflective of the reality of many statutory-based AHPs. Indeed, it is woeful to ask just how an acute-based AHP signposts a patient to a third sector organisation if they don’t know that organisation exists.

I’ve now met various amazing reps from voluntary organisations and charities all dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of people who live with long term conditions. I struggle to ascertain why, in the main, we have worked in isolation of each other for so long! We share the same values and work ethics in supporting people towards independence and living full and active lives.

I have sympathy for my statutory AHP colleagues as life is tough at the coal face – there is little time or opportunity to forge innovative preventative partnerships when one is knee-deep in reactive care. Many front-line AHPs remain unexposed to the workforce of the third sector or to the key people working as Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs). Acute-based AHPs almost inadvertently require to have ‘bumped into’ the third sector in order to fully notice and value its existence. Partnerships are, after all, about relationships. One needs to have a few dates before setting up home together.

Statutory bodies do need to open up and expose their members to what exists beyond the boundaries of reactive care i.e. communities. Perhaps third sector organisations could be more visible and cohesive? – without a structural ‘front door’ it’s hard to gain access, and please, just a little empathy towards an NHS that does care, even if it doesn’t always show it! By putting aside our prejudice, trusting each other and pulling together in these frugal times we can meet the challenges ahead. It’s good news then that our National AHP delivery plan embraces coproduction. Part of my remit will be to support the NHS AHP Directors in their delivery of this plan that celebrates a collaborative role in long term condition management with carers, families and communities. This should create opportunities for AHPs and community organisations to ‘bump into one another’ and start relationships even if very few of us really understand the meaning of the word coproduction.

So, what have I got as ‘my remit’ for the next few months?

The ALLIANCE has some great supportive change programmes that AHPs need to check out that will help in everyday practice. Have you heard of ALISS, Living it Up, the ‘Self Management Fund’? Promoting these exciting third sector programmes as widely as possible will be pleasurable but painful as it will ultimately mean my embracement of social media. Those who know me well are now actively sniggering as I have only just learned to text. Ah well, I’m told, albeit by those still in their twenties, that it’s never too late to learn technology. I have tweeted – so anything is possible!

One could argue that if AHPs had better awareness of, knowledge and opportunity to adopt self-management, person-centredness and asset-based approaches there would be a natural shift towards partnering with the third sector. Over the next few months I will work with colleagues across NES, NHS, the ALLIANCE and its members to aid the spread of these approaches and help hard working AHPs luddites just like me to become much more aware of the awesome strengths of the third sector. The sector has an abundance of enthusiasm, professionalism and commitment. They fully embrace and practice coproduction and ‘relationship-based care’ and consequently present as ideal centres of excellence for AHPs to learn from.  Fortunately I will not be alone in this task – there are now several AHP Leads in Scotland working for, and with, the third sector (and, hopefully, they already know how to tweet, blog and apply hash-tags).

We need a baseline of activity and attitude towards partnership working – look out for ‘a survey or focused meeting near you’ so I can collate information and find out what the barriers and facilitators are.

Please get in touch if you have any amazing or emerging examples of partnership practice – these can be celebrated, highlighted and used as learning tools!

People who are disabled, living with long-term conditions and their unpaid carers want joined-up services and proactive care, they want to be involved in decision-making, and they want the understanding and information on their condition to support self-care and management. I know AHPs can make this happen right across Scotland by embracing self-management, person centred outcomes and working in partnership with our colleagues in the third sector.

Over the next few months I will aspire to act as a matchmaker engineering connections where relationships can build and flourish.

Co-production is the future! But we could just start by bumping into one another and see where it takes us……

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