Occupational therapy could save NHS and social care – but don't call us OTs
Occupational therapists slash hospital admissions and delayed transfers of care – clinicians and politicians need to recognise and value our work.
With a general election around the corner, the call has gone out to work out what can be done about an NHS and social care system in meltdown. What is needed is a group of staff who can reduce unnecessary hospital admissions, slash delayed discharges, prevent readmissions, and help the NHS and social care system work seamlessly together.
Occupational therapists, represented by the officially renamed Royal College of Occupational Therapists, are that group.
Our data shows that putting occupational therapy at the frontline of the NHS cuts unnecessary A&E admissions by up to 80% and reduces delayed transfers of care by eight days. Another recent study found that “occupational therapy is the only category where additional spending has a statistically significant association with lower readmission rates”. This evidence cannot and must not be ignored.
The same applies in social care. For too long, we’ve collectively wrung our hands and exclaimed that something must be done to fix the system. Later this year we will publish a report which will reveal that putting occupational therapy at the heart of social care results in higher quality, person-centred services at lower overall cost. Occupational therapists respond to 40% of social care referrals but make up just 2% of the workforce. Imagine what we could achieve if more of us were deployed to lead services.
The astute reader will have noticed that I am using our professional title in full. Calling us OTs is no longer acceptable. I refuse to allow my profession to be reduced to two letters. I am an occupational therapist, not an acronym, and so are each of the newest Royal College’s 32,000 members.
Occupational therapists evaluate a person’s home environment, examining the challenges it presents and suggesting how they might be overcome. We assess for care and support packages and home adaptations, and provide rehabilitation and reablement. We work to build self-reliance, rather than dependence on services.
The NHS can’t wait for a long-term funding plan or for a new government, whatever its colour, to yet again rethink the health and social care system. People who need support shouldn’t suffer while they wait for politicians to figure out the answers. And although there is increasing recognition of the vital contribution we make, I highly doubt any of this year’s political manifestos even mention the potential of the occupational workforce.
Unless there is greater recognition of the value of occupational therapy, the system will continue to waste time reinventing the wheel. One possible solution to this would be to widen the pool of allied health professionals (AHPs) in leadership positions in the NHS. Too many people secure top posts through clinical directorships, and therefore have to be a medic or nurse. This discriminates against AHPs and prevents us from bringing our unique perspective to board level discussions.
The professional body of occupational therapists might now have royal status but, to quote a famous former prime minister, “this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”. Expect to hear a lot more from occupational therapists. Just don’t call us OTs …
Julia Scott is chief executive of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists