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HEIW's Wendy Wilkinson talks about her experiences and the role of AHPs

Hi! I’m Wendy Wilkinson, I am the new Head of Allied Health Professions Transformation with Health Education Improvement Wales (HEIW).

I qualified as an Occupational Therapist from a small rural university in Australia and came to the UK for a working holiday… over 20 years ago! I moved to Wales in 2008 to accept a Macmillan Advanced Practice post, developing rehabilitation services for people affected by cancer in and around Swansea. This area of practice really intrigued me. I have always thrived in environments where teams work in an inter-disciplinary model.

I then moved into my first allied health professions (AHP) leadership role with the Wales Cancer Network. Here I worked with a dynamic multi-disciplinary team, whose focus was to support the cancer AHP and nursing workforce in providing high quality person-centred care.

Working in an all Wales team taught me so much about the dedication and enthusiasm with which the people of the NHS in Wales approach their roles. This made the decision to move into HEIW feel like a natural next step.

My role in HEIW is as Head of Transformation for AHPs. My nursing, healthcare science (HCS) and eye care colleagues and I sit within the Nursing, AHP, Education and Commissioning Directorate. I started this new role just after the Covid-19 social restrictions commenced, so at the time of this blog, there are some of my team-mates that I have still never ‘met’ (well, not in 3-dimensions anyway).

As a newly created role within a newly formed organisation, my workplan is evolving. On starting, I worked closely with my colleagues in the education and commissioning team, supporting the pre-registration AHP student response to Covid-19. In light of the continued social restrictions post-Covid-19, I continue to support the education and commissioning team in their work with health and social care partners to try and find new and innovative ways of rewarding practice learning opportunities for our future colleagues.

These innovative models of practice placement push us to think outside the box and be creative with our perception of what a modern healthcare professional needs as part of their professional toolkit. This is why I agreed to offer student placements this year. These placement opportunities will aim to start building leadership capacity within our professions at an early stage. It’s a challenge to time and resources setting up new practice placement opportunities, but I’m counting on it paying dividends in the future! This learning journey for the students who do come to HEIW and myself will form another blog-versation that I’d like to share with you a little later in the year.

In the few months I have been working in HEIW, I have had the perfect opportunity to shout about the diverse offer that AHPs bring to the multi-disciplinary team, when dealing with complex and often uncertain health and social situations. To support the teams in practice, we have been able to develop some learning resources that showcase the important role that rehabilitation has in meeting the various needs of the following populations.

These resources have aimed to not only help our non-rehabilitation colleagues to understand a little more about the magic of rehabilitation (wink wink), it also aimed to encourage them to have confidence in adopting an enabling approach to their own daily care roles and routines, so the magic lasts longer! The resources I’m talking about are almost ready to be shared, and I will spend some more time on these in my next blog.

This has been part of a wider national Task and Finish group who prepared resources to support the innovative provision of rehabilitation during the challenges posed by Covid-19. These resources can be found here.

NHS Wales is blessed with a very talented pool of people who have inspired, led and delivered creative and exciting practice. We need a way to be able to identify our future leaders and creative thinkers easier than we do at present. I would love to see that we could develop a way of being able to find our talented people, to enable them to make themselves known, so that we can make sure that they have the support they need as they navigate their career path.

The career paths available to us, is limited only by the limits of our own imagination! The one area that I would like to focus on over the new few years is the future role of AHPs. I would love to see our professions adapt to the changing needs of our local populations. If Covid-19 has taught me anything it is that we have the potential to be braver than we think! Our professionals and our public, have embraced new ways of working, for example virtual consultation faster than could’ve been predicted.

We are finding members from care settings and sectors who have never worked with us on shaping our future colleagues, coming forward and sharing the uncertainty of what a ‘modern’, ‘alternative’, ‘creative’, ‘innovative’, whatever you would like to call it, student practice placement might look like. This is a period of learning for us all. I would call on colleagues from all professions to volunteer to join the ‘revolution’. Together, we have the potential to create the modern workforce for the future.

My advice to all AHP colleagues (and I mean ALL - this isn’t just about managers or clinical leads) is that compassionate leadership isn’t about a pecking order. We all share a piece of this vision for the future. If you have an idea about something that could add value to the shape of the future workforce, please share! We are stronger together, and together, we have the potential to transform the future of health and social care in Wales.