Allied Health Professions (AHP) - the other side to working in health
Written by Ruth McGuire - 2nd December 2021
If you think about some of our best loved TV dramas based on hospitals, the key leading characters are always doctors and nurses. However, the health profession is much more diverse than what we see dramatised on TV. There are in fact 14 different Allied Health Professions (AHPs) in the UK and within them, graduate level professionals and support workers complement the work of doctors and nurses. The AHPs in the UK are as follows: 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. The largest proportion of AHPs are physiotherapists and according to data from the Health and Care Professions Council, there are around 54,600 of them, followed in size by Occupational Therapists of which there are around 38,880.
If you work in a school, you may already have had some contact with AHPs who work as speech and language therapists. They work with children who have communication difficulties or have problems eating, drinking, and swallowing. Every week we all notice the work of other AHPs, the paramedics who speed through our streets responding to medical emergencies. As for the other AHPs, most of us, our families/friends, service users we work with or patients we care for, will have used their services at different times. For example, care home workers will often help service users access services of AHPs who as physiotherapists help people improve and resolve issues with movement and mobility.
Apart from dealing with clinical or scientific problems, some AHPs offer the opportunity for professionals and their support workers to combine their creative interests with their interests in health and science. For example, AHPs and their support workers who work as Art or Drama Therapists use their creative skills and knowledge of health to help service users and patients recuperate, recover, or deal with health problems that require a therapeutic approach. For example, the British Association of Dramatherapy explains their work as follows: ‘Dramatherapy is a form of psychotherapy. Dramatherapists are both clinicians and artists that draw on their knowledge of theatre and therapy to use as a medium for psychological therapy that may include drama, story-making, music, movement, and art; to work with any issue that has presented itself.’ Dramatherapy student, Sareena Rai explains what she enjoys about her role. She says:
What I love most about Dramatherapy is that it is a creative form of psychotherapy. It utilises creative methods such as storytelling, metaphors, embodiment, projection and role play to order to create distance between the person and the problem/trauma, thereby reducing the risk of re-traumatisation. By working with a Dramatherapist and immersing themselves into a story or role, the clients therapeutic journey is underway. REF.www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/allied-health-professions/stimulate-demand/career-choices-why-i-decided-become-ahp
Claire Flint works as a Dietetic Assistant Practitioner at Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and she explains her role as follows:
As a Dietetic Assistant Practitioner, I support the dietitians by carrying out patient reviews, ordering oral nutritional supplements and delivering training. I also support the wider team by delivering DESMOND courses, updating literature, carrying out audits. My work allows the dietitians more time to focus on complex cases which has an impact on patient care overall.
I have always had an interest in nutrition and dietetics and worked in the nutrition field for many years until unfortunately I was made redundant a few years ago. Finally, after getting my confidence back I was keen to get back into nutrition and dietetics to share my passion with patients and I was offered the job in this role, which has further increased my confidence and passion for nutrition and dietetics.
Entry to AHP work
Work at a professional level as an AHP requires a degree. However, support workers who work alongside them do not. They can enter some AHP support roles without any qualifications at all but with a commitment to undertake training and genuine interest in helping people. For example, Occupational Therapy (OT) support workers are not required to have any specific qualifications. Their role could include: ‘helping someone adapt to life after major surgery, such as a hip replacement, helping children with disabilities take part in school and play activities, helping people with mental illnesses get back into everyday activities, such as work or volunteering. Similarly, ‘there are no set entry requirements to become a podiatry assistant. Employers expect good literacy and numeracy and may ask for GCSEs, or equivalent or may ask for an NVQ, BTEC or equivalent qualification in health and social care or healthcare.’ If you have relevant work experience in health or social care, this could be an advantage when applying for support worker roles in the AHPs.
Find your AHP
The best way to find a role within the AHP sector that matches your skills and interests is by completing the career quiz at. https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/FindYourCareer
The quiz allows you to select your work preferences based on your existing qualifications or even select preferences if you lack qualifications. You can also select preferences such as working with babies, children, and teenagers, working outdoors in any weather, designing or styling, operating machines and so on. At the end of the quiz, you will be presented with a range of career and job options that match your skills, interests and qualifications or lack of qualification.
Qualifications such as the NCFE CACHE level 2 Certificate in Healthcare Support Services and the NCFE CACHE level 3 Diploma in Healthcare Support may be a useful step up to entering one of the AHPs but is not a requirement. Alternatively, employees may be offered the qualification once they start their job.
Further reading – case study examples of different AHP roles
Further research about different AHPs and health careers
Ruth McGuire is an Education Inspector with nearly 15 years of inspection experience. She has taught in both further and higher education. She is also a well-established education and training consultant, writer and freelance journalist. She is a Governor of an outstanding sixth form college and also holds board roles within the NHS.