BAOT Unison Northern and Yorkshire Regional Conference


 17 October 2014

 Today has been an exciting and inspiring day! I attended the regional conference put on by our BAOT regional committee, which was shared with and supported by Unison – and what a day they put on!

 Everything, from the venue to the speakers and the relevance of the day, was just spot on!

 It was sparked off with a little information about Unison and what they do and the challenges they face; however this was linked very closely to the challenges facing occupational therapy in the current climate. The regional Unison manager identified several challenges, but some of the most pertinent to me (and you will have to excuse my bias, but I look at things with a different set of goggles these days, and this is after all my own reflection), included the following issues:

  • Volunteers are plugging gaps.
  • ‘For profit’ services are leading to falling standards.
  • Workloads are increasing, and subsequently so is stress.

 He identified that we need to take collective responsibility and improve our support networks because collectively we hold more power.

 It was very interesting, and a little sad, that the discussions led more to the threats to occupational therapists themselves rather than to occupational therapy as a profession; however it provided a fantastic opportunity to reflect on all things OT.

 I was fortunate enough to be sat at a table with Jennifer Creek, Katrina Bannigan and Mary Booth, amongst others. This by no means belittles the importance of the others at my table…but these 3 women have all been a driving force in my practice and experience at different times throughout my career to date, and I felt very excited to be able to discuss my thoughts and opinions so openly and closely with them!

 We discussed our frustrations regarding the lack of integrated working cross service and cross sector, despite the evidence base, and how this impacts on service provision and ultimately the experience of the service user/client. We talked about dilution of the role of occupational therapy, leading to reduced quality of services and subsequently less strength to demonstrate the effectiveness of what we can do as a profession. There was discussion about how OT education sometimes lets our students down in terms of preparing them to be effective practitioners. Practical capability, academic understanding, confidence in core skills, and risk of over-supply were all featured within this topic. There was also concern that there remains a lack of research and, subsequently, evidence based practice is jeopardised in many areas. But what was great about the discussion was all these issues were seen in a positive light, and solutions were sought rather than just having a good old moan about them.

 The first of the two keynote speeches was kicked off by Jennifer Creek who presented on ‘What does an Occupational Therapist do?’

 She talked about occupational therapy being both simple and complex, engaging people in activities that may sometimes be mundane, but those that hold purpose and meaning.

 She asserted the need for our professional development to meet the emerging needs of society and identified that the appropriateness of our early learning changes over time and that the evolution of our profession must remain socially relevant.

 She talked about core skills, both shared/generic as well as profession-specific. She defined the core skills of occupational therapy, and identified that many therapists she talks do not engage in all the core skills. She acknowledged that we are unlikely to be specialist in all these skills; however she asserted we should all be competent in them and should strive to optimise our competence and confidence in them all, and that we need to use outcome measurement to demonstrate the effectiveness of using these skills.

Jennifer identified barriers to our autonomy as occupational therapists and how we might overcome these by identifying our own gaps of knowledge, finding ways to fill these gaps and creating space to practice autonomously.

 She went on to identify 5 enabling characteristics of a good practitioner:

 We need to be agentic, ie we need to make and impose choices within our practice.

  • We need to demonstrate openness, maintaining an open mind, not pre-judging, and being open to challenge what has previously been presumed as a given.
  • We need to be responsive, flexible, to evaluate our practice and let go of habitual ways by trying new things.
  • We need to show commitment to long term goals rather than to previously established routines.
  • And we need to be resourceful, practising ingenuity, using skills, knowledge and experience, and any available human or environmental resources.

 Jennifer urged us to hold a vision of what OT can achieve. She recommended we embed ourselves in good occupational therapy practice and to find out what that looks like and feels like by surrounding ourselves with good occupational therapists.

 As always, her speech was thought provoking, inspiring, and made me want to get back to work and be the best OT I can be!!

 Next in the line-up, Katrina Bannigan presented about ‘The Power of One’. She talked about the need for the power to influence, and she identified that we, as a profession, as well as individuals, do have it…but we need evidence! She made sure we understood this was ‘us’ she was talking to, and pleaded that we thought about what she was saying as individuals rather than listening and identifying someone else it might suit.

 Katrina reminded us that to establish evidence we need to identify the gaps in our knowledge base, and then use outcome measures to demonstrate the evidence to fill these gaps.

 After 15 years of striving to increase our profession’s involvement in research and building the evidence base, Katrina felt disheartened that things have not progressed further in those 15 years. However, she has researched the success of other professions, and identified a potential solution to increasing the wider involvement of the profession in building the evidence base without it feeling like too much of a hard task!

 She talked about pragmatic case studies (‘n=1 case studies’) that can be completed in a standardised way by different people, using one case study in order to then pool them all together so that actually, n=100, or 1000,etc…..

 All that is required for this is vision and pragmatic ability. It was inspiring to think that a national database of such case studies could be collaborated so well, and that in addition to improving the evidence base for the profession as a whole, it would also provide access to evidence for us as individual practitioners seeking evidence for proposals and funding etc. Everyone was enthused by this and she had a long line of motivated therapists queuing to offer to be part of this study.

 She urged us to be visionary but not idealistic and to ‘seize the power’ for good things. She asserted that we need to identify alternative ways of influencing the current climate and to seek to hold strategic positions ourselves rather than just knowing how to approach others in those positions.

 She moved on to identify one of our most important tools as our therapeutic use of self, and she signposted us to the Model of the Intentional Relationship in Occupational Therapy and our essential interpersonal skill base. She explained that whatever the barriers are or lack of resources and occupational focus currently perceived within our services, our interpersonal skill base can always be used to engage our clients in occupational therapy as it should be.

 Katrina described the need for powerful stories, continuing professional development and self-care as professionals. She ended by reiterating that as practitioners, we need to be audacious, judicious, tenacious, and SMART in our professional goals and that we need to review our situation regularly to make successful change.

 These inspiring and exciting key note speeches were followed by 6 workshops, each of which was run twice to allow attendance to 2 of interest. Unfortunately I was presenting so I was unable to attend the others, which is maybe a good thing as I could not have chosen only 2 ! They all sounded so fascinating and all of relevance to me in some way or another. What a great array of topics were on offer:

  •  CQC – What to expect.
  • Social media as a CPD tool.
  • Future proofing your career: the Professional Doctorate.
  • OT and transgender identity.
  • Independent Practice.
  • Using OT therapy evidence and theory in practice.

 From what I heard, all sessions were well attended and well received, although I look forward to hearing more specific feedback!

 I presented/facilitated the workshops on independent practice. I wanted to offer an insight into my journey and allay some of the perceived misconceptions about what it takes to be an independent OT or a medico-legal expert witness, and to offer the opportunity for questions, answers and open discussion.  It was also a great opportunity to talk about emerging roles, lone working, and working in roles without occupational therapy in the title.

 Both sessions were well attended. As always, it is hard to gauge how well it went, but the discussions in the latter half of each session were involved and optimistic, leading me, as always, to get giddy with excitement and carried away about how much I love what I do!

 Attendees ranged from students to those preparing for retirement, and worked in a vast array of fields of expertise. It was so refreshing to talk optimistically about overcoming barriers to working in an occupation focused way, using our core skills and transferring them to other areas, and taking opportunities to grow with extra-curricular activities that can optimise our effectiveness and reach.

 So…not so much a short summary of the day, but a general round up of what I have taken away. I feel exhilarated to be part of this profession and motivated to use my ‘power of one’ to move onwards and upwards, both individually and as part of the whole profession.

 I am excited about what the future holds, and hope that by sharing these reflections and recollections that I may inspire others to also use their ‘power of one’ and to integrate and collaborate to bring about a force to be reckoned with in the future of occupational therapy.