Karin Tancock, COT Professional Affairs Officer for Older People and Long-term Conditions, asks how we can best highlight OTs’ unique skills.
We need to raise the profile of occupational therapy—members tell us this, we know it and it is a key ongoing objective for the practice team at COT. As a professional affairs officer, I am involved in facilitating roadshows and events for members and I often ask: How do you explain occupational therapy to people? The response is usually an exasperated: Why should we have to explain our role? Why don’t the public know our role by now? This is then swiftly followed by What is COT doing about this?
In the practice team we focus our influencing on cross-professional groups, joint working with UK charities and the different care inspectorates and bodies that influence practice such as the National Centre for Care and Excellence (NICE) and national governments. Vital as this work is, it does not give us a high profile with the man or woman on the street. To grab media attention, to get on television, we need a story, or to be seen as experts on an issue preoccupying the nation. So we have taken the first steps in trying to produce a resource that identifies occupational therapists as experts.
Last September the College launched a new type of publication, an electronic resource called the Living well through activity in care homes toolkit. This was a new venture for the College as it is primarily aimed at the general public and care home sector—not our members.
We were not sure how it would be received, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It has proved a useful tool for opening doors to talk to a sector that we know needs occupational therapy but for many reasons has limited access.
The launch of the toolkit has gone hand-in-hand with a communications strategy, with articles in various publications such as the Nursing Times and Guardian online. These articles have focused on voicing an occupational therapy perspective on what good quality of care looks like in residential settings. Radio 4 also commissioned a piece on the toolkit. We are not quite on the breakfast TV sofa, but maybe producing more resources like the toolkit is the way forward.
Public health is the current big debate— an area we have not traditionally worked in but where we have key skills to offer. Obesity, for example, is described as a growing epidemic. As practitioners we are working with many people who are overweight and this is impacting on their health. Are we working around a person’s weight or are we actively addressing the reasons for their eating choices and habits? Is this the next area to highlight our skills to the public and commissioners?
We would welcome your thoughts—should COT develop a wider range of resources for the public to create greater demand and recognition for occupational therapy? If yes, is public health the way to go? Are you willing to act as a media spokesperson?