Guest blog: by Katy Bergson, Post Graduate Diploma, Occupational Therapy Student, Cardiff University.
A recent event at Cardiff University celebrated fifty years of training occupational therapists in Wales. Speakers were challenged to find content that would interest everyone from former Deans of the Occupational Therapy programme and leading professionals, to the next generation of Occupational Therapists currently training at the University. During the day a plaque was unveiled by Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne, who gave a small speech before touring the children’s clinic situated within Cardiff University.
Ruth Crowder, Policy Officer for Wales, COT started the day by setting the scene outlining current context in Wales. Her talk celebrated getting Occupational Therapy explicitly written into the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014. But even with this achievement she also warned that Occupational Therapists face great challenges as plans are rolled out. The theme of examining challenges within Wales was also taken up by Sara Roberts from Bangor University who issued a clear reminder that we must keep language in mind if we want to be client centric. In Wales access to welsh language provision is not a second choice, it should be actively offered. The spirit of this talk equally applies to many occupational therapists working across multi-cultural, and often multi-lingual Britain. She gave a poignant example of a case where a daughter was asked to translate for her dying mother – responding no I don’t want to be a translator, I want to be a daughter. Thinking in terms of the Canadian model, Roberts argued that language is really part of our spirituality, so therapists must be sensitive to language choices and comfort of expression.
Whilst the day of celebrations had plenty of opportunities to look back, with old pictures and reminiscing, there was also a clear sense of looking forward. Three recent graduates Isabelle Hartley, Sarah Warren and Zoe Williams, presented research projects on Zumba, anorexia’s impact on occupational engagement and specialist paediatric seating choices. Each student acknowledged being daunted by the idea of research but really shone with a sense of achievement as they described their findings and reflections on the process. When asked what would encourage them to continue to research now they’re working in practice, all three graduates acknowledged the support of their team would be fundamental.
Dr Jo Adams, a leading academic from University of Southampton also delved into the subject of research, drumming home the vital need for Occupational Therapists to work using Evidence Based Practice (EBP) if we want to prove our worth in these times of financial prudence. She argued that Occupational Therapists must do more with health economics, using QALYs to prove the value of preventative work, and other interventions.
Similarly, Cherry Stewart, a Senior Occupational Therapist from Cardiff and Vale UHB looked into the future of the profession, describing a ground breaking project placing Occupational Therapists from a mental health team in Cardiff and Vale UHB into secondments in Job Centre Plus (JCP) to tackle the cycle of poor mental health and unemployment. The pilot was conducted over a year across two sites, working intensely with over a hundred individuals. Stewart outlined some promising success stories emerging from the pilot, showing unconventional ways of working may be critical for breaking the barriers of health inequality that certain groups face.
Wrapping up the event Dr Gail Boniface argued that whilst equipment provision is not always seen as the most glamorous part of the profession, a literature review into occupational therapy in social services, demonstrates it is still a really vital service to many individuals. So whilst novel approaches can be significant, we must not neglect fundamental traditional practices either. As a student my take away from the day was that occupational therapists need to have a keen sense of where we’ve come from, as well as where the profession is heading in the future. As Richard Humphries, of The Kings Fund rightly argues Occupational Therapists can really “punch well above their weight in terms of the impact on people’s lives” but I think if we want the opportunity to do that in our fast changing healthcare system we must also be able to fight our corner by creating and using robust evidence.