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Themes: Assistive & Accessible Technology

Allied Health Profession Day

Colour photograph of Kate Mattick

Kate Mattick

Membership and Engagement Coordinator

Allied Health Profession Day – what is is? And who is celebrating?

Today in the UK (where GDI Hub was founded and is based) is “Allied Health Professions” (AHP) Day - a day recognising the 14 professions that make up the third largest workforce in our National Health Service (NHS).

The NHS define Allied Health Professionals as a collective workforce - from Paramedics to Art Therapists - who have a holistic approach to healthcare delivery and support in the;

“Prevention and improvement of health and wellbeing to maximise the potential for individuals to live full and active lives within their family circles, social networks, education/training and the workplace.”

By the very nature of their work, many AHP’s also make up the Rehabilitation Workforce as recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). And are involved in the making, fitting and educating of Assistive Devices for disabled adults and children – inclusive of those who might be newly injured, unwell or at the end of their life.

Below are some examples;

  • Occupational Therapists – can recommend and fit Assistive Devices for the home or workplace
  • Physiotherapists – support in prescribing walking aids, wheelchairs or supportive seating
  • Speech and Language Therapists – assess and work with someone to find the right communication device
  • Prosthetists and Orthotists – fitting of artificial limbs or supportive footwear

These professions are relatively new, diverse and continuously evolving and the above is by no means an exhaustive list of all the things they might do.

Their specialisms may be broad, but their role can be significant in supporting a person to adapt, regain confidence and do or achieve the things important to them. In high-income settings AHPs have become familiar. A go-to. You may have come across them in hospitals, the community, schools, mental health services, hospices or even prisons.

But the story is not the same everywhere and unsurprisingly, access to a rehabilitation professional is profoundly inequitable. The WHO estimate 2.4 billion people currently need rehabilitation and in LMICs there are less than 10 skilled practitioners per 1 million of the population. Some data tell us how many professions there might be per country, but in the most cases the actual figures are unknown:

(I found it even harder to find some statistics on Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy professional numbers.)

The reason for such a shortfall is as always, complex. Many countries don’t have the training programmes, professional recognition, or governing bodies for these professions to become established. And the small numbers of AHP's that do exists are working unfathomably hard to meet demand.

Now with the ageing population, the rise in complex and chronic health conditions as well as the injury caused by humanitarian and environmental disaster, the need for not only AT but a rehabilitation workforce to support AT implementation is only set to increase.

And if these professions that help identify need, assess, fit and prescribe AT don’t exist – then who else should we turn to?

A personal reflection:

As a physiotherapist I have had opportunities to work in some more remote parts of the world and I have seen some of the harrowing consequences when a child or adult needing AT doesn't have access. I have felt the frustrations, as a professional, trying to figure out exactly where to find a device or someone skilled who could make it and have previously found great joy in working with a local carpenter (who was more used to building doors) to turn his hand to walking aids and adapted seating. Because there literally was nothing else.

Although I do not necessarily believe that the person prescribing some pieces of AT has to be a qualified 'expert.' I do feel that potential users of AT need to know what exists and how to ask for it. There needs to be support in knowing where to go, what options are out there and a service that can ensure the device is safe, comfortable and works for the person using it.

If this isn’t AHP’s because they might not exist yet. Then who?

It is exciting and hopeful to see a new training initiative being launched soon from The WHO to help answer some of these questions and support our fellow health workers, alongside others, fulfill an Assistive Tech role.

Training on Assistive Products (TAP)

In response to the growing need for an AT workforce the WHO are launching an open access resource: Training in Assistive Products – TAP. TAP was developed by support from UK-aid through GDI Hub AT2030 programme and is designed to prepare primary health and the community workforce to fulfill and deliver Assistive Tech roles.

The training includes identifying people who may benefit from simple, priority Assistive Products like reading glasses or elbow crutches as well as knowing how and when to make referrals for more complex products and services.

The launch for TAP includes two events on Thursday 10th November, where GDI Hub CEO Vicki Austin will be speaking.

TAP offers great potential through enhancing an already skilled and well-placed workforce to effectively deliver Assistive Products around the globe. The TAP modules will be available in multiple languages and have the potential to be such an integral part of creating global AT access.

So, if you are an AHP in the UK or further afield and keen to find out about the future of AT delivery, where AHP's might not exist - then join the Launch event in November and help spread the word: Register for the Launch Event

In summary

I celebrate all that AHP's do and I am an advocate of new training programmes being rolled out around the world. But until these professions exist and with the pressing global demand for AT, I am curious, open and excited to think differently about how we can support other personnel in delivering AT across the globe and ensuring it gets to where its most needed.

Happy Allied Health Professions Day!