This was a lively and thought provoking debate on the motion:
“This house believes that diverse roles are a vital tool in the future of our profession.”
It’s somewhat of a challenge to distil the variety of shared viewpoints and experiences in a limited character count, and I’m very aware of the potential to upset someone on either side of the fence! However, I’ll do my best to hone in on key points, and hope it’s simply a bridge to further insight and discussion.
Session chair David Brindle, Public Services Editor at The Guardian, took an early vote before the motion was argued, to establish a baseline of opinion. In a room of 143, the vast majority were in favour, with 9 against and 1 abstention.
Miranda Thew, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, was speaking for the motion, with the support of Yvonne Thomas, Principal Lecturer and Academic Lead for Allied Health Professions at the University of Worcester. Miranda is a passionate advocate for diverse roles, having devoted much time and research to this area, yet she opened by describing the tussle she has had with the premise of what is ‘diverse’.
She cited opportunities for diversity in most areas of practice, but how the constraints of some settings stifle the ability to practice in a person-centred, occupation focused way.
Diverse practice was linked with occupational justice, in relation to the occupational therapists who support those not able to access traditional healthcare settings, including prisoners and traveller communities.
Diverse roles at initial points of access were also referenced: GP surgeries, A&E, the ambulance service and care homes. These are diverse roles, but ones that could ensure our future in an NHS that appears to have side-lined occupational therapy in many future strategy documents.
Speaking against the motion was Kee Hean Lim, International and ENOTHE lead for occupational therapy at Brunel University. He was joined by Gabrielle Richards, Professional Head of Occupational Therapy and Trust Social Inclusion and Recovery Lead for South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
Arguments against the motion addressed its wording – are these roles ‘vital’ to our future, or just another opportunity? The speakers also warned about the risk of diluting occupational therapy into generic therapy, rehab or care coordination roles, and trying to do all things for all people. When the profession has a hard enough challenge of promoting its worth, should it not be clear about what it is, what it does and its territory? Should occupational therapy students not be mastering basic skills and building their professional identity first, before exploring roles outside of traditional practice?
Citing the numbers of occupational therapists in the NHS, the speakers argued that we are not in a position to treat ourselves as a luxury to work across so many settings. The danger may be, we’ll spread ourselves too thinly. Another argument was the need to fill existing vacancies as a way of securing the future of the profession.
When the debate was opened to the floor, the first comment struck me: “Diverse doesn’t’ mean doing all things, it’s doing ‘real OT’ in diverse settings.” It was encouraging to hear fellow students engaging in the debate, sharing their (mostly positive) views of role-emerging placements, as an opportunity to directly translate learning into practice. Most were advocates for an experience that had allowed them to engage in unrestrained and truly occupation-focused practice.
As the final vote was cast, the number ‘against’ the motion had increased slightly, as had the rate of abstention, but there was a clear majority in support of diverse roles as a vital tool in the future of occupational therapy.
This session provided food for thought, especially the notion that role emerging placements can offer direct application of classroom learning, and help to build skills that may not be accessed elsewhere.
1st year pre-reg MSc student at the University of Essex