Having recently made the move from NHS clinician into academia (I started my PhD at Teesside University in December 2017), I arrived in Belfast for the Royal College of Occupational Therapy Annual Conference with an appetite to hear new and interesting research in the profession.
In my welcome pack, I received a copy of the RCOT’s Strategic Intentions which represent the leadership response to the challenges of the changing landscape of health and social care. The principle that stood out for me was to ‘position the Profession, and our members, for the 21st century’.
With my background in amputee rehabilitation I have seen first-hand the impact of socio-economic inequalities and lifestyle trends on amputation rate in North East England. For example, the amount of amputations due to diabetes, and more shockingly intra-venous drug use, has spiked in the past 10 years or so. As an Occupational Therapist (OT), I view the person holistically and always try to take into account the social and psychological not just physical barriers they will need to overcome post amputation. My focus will always be on what the person needs and wants to do. The person’s meaningful activities (occupations).
|The pledge tree|
During the conference, we were asked to make a pledge about how we would do our part to ensure the new strategic intentions are met. The pledge tree seemed to have a recurring theme of ‘ensuring occupation is central to my work’.
My own pledge was to better explain ‘occupation’ and its meaning within occupational therapy to a range of audiences.
So, my attempt at articulating ‘occupation’? I’ll go with ‘doing things that we need to do and want to do (meaningful activities), which enable a sense of self-meaning and improved health and well-being.
I feel as a profession we are experts in using occupation as a goal (top down approach) and/or a means (bottom up approach) to ensure provision of high-quality, client centred services. Utilising the OT process from information gathering to evaluation we strive to enable growth, confidence and self-meaning.
Despite OTs generally being able to better define what they do and what the outcomes can be, it was a bit of a shock to see that the debate at the conference highlighted that the profession is still unsure about its stakeholders. The topic up for discussion was ‘This house believes that Occupational Therapy needs to be predominately based in public health, not in secondary or tertiary services’.
From my experience, this issue had been debated and answered years ago. My pre-registration training saw me working in the NHS, community mental health teams, a special needs school and a charity. The OTs all had a prominent and effective role in these sectors, so as intrigued as I was to hear the debate, I knew which way I would be voting!
For the purpose of this blog I’d like to highlight the case for OTs working in Public Health. A starting point would be the statement by the professional body, which points out that the Public Health Agenda has been of increasing importance and relevance for occupational therapists, who facilitate health promotion through working with people of all ages to enable their participation in meaningful occupations (RCOT 2004).
The evidence base is also pretty strong. A systematic review of Allied Health Professions and Health Promotion (Needle et al 2011) reviewed 28 studies related to occupational therapy and Public Health, and found related interventions in the areas of mental health, arthritis, pain and fatigue, pulmonary rehabilitation, stroke, drug and alcohol problems, and falls prevention.
Not only are OTs already working with people on aspects of Public Health and health promotion activity, but there is an expectation that this focus will form part of the delivery of all occupational therapy interventions in the future. For example, I remember reading about the ‘make every contact count’ campaign when working on an acute stroke ward and making sure I asked about smoking and drinking habits as part of my OT assessment.
So, it was with no surprise that the result swung against the motion at the conference. A particularly convincing rebuttal speech was given by Professor Diane Cox and Dr Jenny Preston, clearly showing the professions ability to address Public Health matters but also reach a wider audience through demonstrating outcomes in secondary and tertiary services.
Overall, I left the conference with a sense that the profession has strategically positioned itself to demonstrate that it is making a difference and will continue to make a difference to the health and well-being of people in the 21st century. It is time for OTs working in Public Health and other services to be proud. In my favourite quote of the conference….‘we are not the jack of all trades, rather we are the masters of human occupation’.
Andrew Graham is investigating ‘Sensory Discriminating Training for Phantom Limb Pain’, as a PhD candidate in the School of Health and Social Care at Teesside University.