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Allied health professions

Maximising their potential to transform services

Allied health professions

Maximising their potential to transform services

Allied health professions

Allied health professions

The Allied Health Professions (AHPs) comprise of 14 distinct occupations including: art therapists, dietitians, dramatherapists, music therapists, occupational therapists, operating department practitioners, orthoptists, osteopaths, paramedics, physiotherapists, podiatrists, prosthetists and orthotists, diagnostic and therapeutic radiographers, and speech and language therapists.

AHPs form the third largest clinical workforce in health and social care in England. They provide high quality care to patients and clients across a wide range of care pathways and in a variety of settings that include, hospitals, community, the independent and charitable sectors and schools. They work in health promotion to prevent accident or illness, they are active in treatment and rehabilitation and they promote self-help and independence.

AHPs have professional titles recognised by NHS England and protected by law. In order to use their professional titles – such as occupational therapist or speech and language therapist – each professional must be registered with the regulatory body - the Health and Care Professions Council.

More detailed information on the AHPs careers and role can be found on the Health Careers website.


The strategic importance of AHPs

The Interim NHS People Plan, to support the NHS Long Term Plan, describes AHPs as central to meeting the changing demands the NHS faces. It describes AHPs as being instrumental in delivering person-centred, evidence-based care as clinical leaders and practitioners.

HEE is supporting the national AHP workforce programme which will set out the action needed to improve supply and retention of AHPs and their deployment and development across professions and geography. This will ensure that by 2024, we have the right AHP workforce with the right skills in the right place to deliver high quality care.

AHPs have a significant role in supporting the demands the NHS will face in the next ten years and will help deliver the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan.   

HEE’s work with the fourteen AHP professions aims to:

  • help to ensure an essential supply of AHPs
  • maximise the contribution of Allied Health Professions
  • support the development of the AHP workforce and AHP careers


Case studies:

We have a number of case studies available to read - take a look below. 


Laura, an Operating Department Practitioner (ODP) and works as a lecturer in the ODP and Paramedic Science team at Birmingham City University. She also works clinically as an ODP and is an Advanced Life Support and Paediatric Advanced Life Support provider and instructor. 

Laura explains her career journey and what she loves about her role as an ODP.

“Having qualified as an operating department practitioner in 2014, I went on to practice as a multi-skilled practitioner in all areas of operating department practice (scrub, anaesthetics and recovery). What I love about my role is the ability to build a rapport with patients and work as part of a multidisciplinary team taking care of individuals at a time when they feel extremely vulnerable. No two days are the same, anything can change in the blink of an eye and we have to be able to adapt, act and think on our toes to ensure safe and effective anaesthetic induction, surgery and recovery.

“Eighteen months after I had qualified, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to become resuscitation link practitioner for my trust, standing side by side with medics and other healthcare professionals. This experience gave me the experience to become a resuscitation officer, allowing me to take the skills and knowledge of the ODP far beyond the ‘hidden depths’ of the operating theatre. I was really excited by the role because I felt I could have a good mix of clinical, educational and team leadership responsibilities, whilst continuing to undertake regular bank shifts as an ODP.

“Following additional advanced life support training for both adults and paediatrics, I am now an advanced life support provider and instructor. As a core member of both the multi-disciplinary adult and paediatric resuscitation/medical emergency team(s), I undertake assessment of the deteriorating patient; act as team leader at resuscitation attempts; and am involved in the critical care transfer of acutely ill adults & children.

“Six months ago, my new chapter began as a university lecturer, still maintaining both my clinical and resuscitation instructor roles. With the advancement of operating department practice, I felt It was the right time to share my clinical knowledge and experience in the extended scopes of practiceand  skills that I had achieved as an ODP. Ultimately, I hope to act as inspiration, to raise the profile of the ‘most rewarding career you have probably never heard of!’”.

Helen Mottram, a Music Therapist at Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust and works as part of a multi-disciplinary team within Thumbswood Mother and Baby Unit - a seven bed inpatient unit for women experiencing; peri, ante and postnatal depression and psychosis. Music therapy has been in place at the unit since 2012 and it is the only such unit in England with an established music therapy post. As Helen explains: 

“On Thumbswood, the role of the music therapist has evolved into a multifaceted one. The women we support often experience feelings of loss, aloneness, failure, detachment and anxiety at their inability to meet their baby’s needs. We help to create a space to hold the baby in mind, helping a mother to feel she has something to offer her baby.

“Music therapy sessions take place with individual mothers and their infants, in groups or with partners and siblings in a family context. Sessions might involve a hello song to each mother and baby in turn, and nursery rhymes, in which mothers are encouraged to sing to and with their babies, to touch them and make eye contact, to notice and respond to their babies' communications.

"There is lots of research about the health benefits of singing to babies, but more recently research has focused on the benefits for the mothers too. Symptoms of depression have been found to decrease and singing can enhanced face to face interaction for both postnatally depressed mother and infants.

"The music therapy sessions have been well received and almost 90% of mums admitted in an 18 month period attended at least one session, with most mums attending two or more. 100% said they would attend a similar group on discharge and 100% said they would sing songs from the group elsewhere. 50% said they felt closer to their babies after the session and 55% said it had improved their confidence with their babies.”

Professor Sue Pownall, Head of Speech and Language Therapy and Clinical Lead in Dysphagia at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is a member of the working group reviewing and updating the IDF and has led on embedding the framework across Sheffield, as she explains:

“As Speech and Language Therapists, we obviously have a crucial role to play in the identification and management of swallowing difficulties but my main message has always been  that ‘swallowing safely is everyone’s business’.

“We have worked very hard in Sheffield to develop the competencies of the wider workforce and to implement the inter-disciplinary dysphagia framework (IDF) across both hospital and community settings.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work and commitment but implementation has raised the quality of clinical practice and care; improved  patient outcomes; and ensured that speech and language resource is targeted more effectively.

“We have appropriate and relevant training and education for each level of the IDF, targeted at different staff groups depending on their needs.  For example, at the awareness level, Sheffield Health Academy includes swallowing awareness in a nutrition session for existing /new support staff; dysphagia awareness is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeships; and new clinical support workers complete the awareness level training. Assistant level is included in preceptorship training for all nurses in the hospital and is part of our central induction training.

“We have also reached out in to a network of staff in care homes across Sheffield, initially targeting homes where there is a high level of contact with the service. 51 staff  from 22 care homes have been trained to Assistant Dysphagia Practitioner level.

“Embedding the IDF has not been easy and I have to admit that the implementation process was complex. It’s required a range of different approaches for each level of the framework.

“However, a key to success has been a shared vision that dysphagia is a patient safety issue. We recognised that we needed to increase staff knowledge and practical competencies across all professional groups and health care workers caring for patients with dysphagia.  And a collaborative approach between organisations and colleagues has reaped the benefits.”

Victoria Smerdon from Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has been recognised as the first Consultant Neuro Orthoptist in the UK by the British and Irish Orthoptic Society.  Victoria’s role and clinical practice is a great example of the contribution being made to clinical care by allied health professions and of the work being supported by HEE to develop AHP consultant practice.  Victoria talks about her role:

“After qualifying from the University of Sheffield in 2000, I worked at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey before moving to Bolton NHS Foundation Trust where I gained extensive experience caring for stroke and acquired brain injury patients. I joined my current Trust 2014 as the Head of Orthoptics and since then, I have specialised in neuro-ophthalmology focusing on how the brain uses vision to interact with the rest of the body. The orthoptics team working within the hospital and out in the community and we work closely with physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, endocrinologists and many other clinical colleagues within and outside of the Trust. We provide a holistic approach which not only considers the individual patient but also their personal circumstances.

“I am keen to progress my career further and am on track to complete a Master’s degree later this year as well as non-medical training that will allow me to administer and supply medicines relevant to my role. I am also working with the Royal College of Ophthalmologists to develop a core competencies framework for non-medical clinicians working in Neuro-Ophthalmology and have also recently been selected to co-chair a British and Irish Clinical Advisory Group."

In line with the aspirations of the NHS Long-term Plan, HEE is working to develop ‘credentials’ to support safe and effective skills sharing at the level of advanced practice as well as at the levels above and below. Orthoptics is one example where HEE  is working with the ophthalmology professions to develop the education and training required to support these credentials, building upon the existing four key areas of work to also broaden into neuro-orthoptics.