How can you help patients more to live as healthy, active and independent lives as possible? That was the question facing more than 100 Western Isles health workers at a special meeting recently.

NHS Western Isles dieticians, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, radiographers, and speech and language therapists considered the themes of the national AHP ‘Active and Independent Living Programme’.

Known collectively as Allied Health Professionals (AHPs), they were joined by colleagues from social work, voluntary and third sector groups to take part in the local AHP Learning Together Event which is held every other year.

“All in all, it was a very busy day, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm,” said Rhoda MacKay, NHSWI AHP Practice Education Lead, who planned and organised the event.

At the event, Susan Kelso, AHP National Lead Early Intervention (Scottish Government), spoke about the ‘Life Curve’ research, which indicates that older people lose skills in a specific order and has the impact of gradually decreasing their level of independence.

The first sign of deterioration in independence is usually when older people are unable to cut their toe nails.  There follows on a steady deterioration, from being unable to do their shopping, use steps, walk 400 yards, and so on, until they are eventually dependent on others for all activities of daily living.

However, research has also shown that people can significantly postpone this decline by remaining as fit and active as possible.

This is where AHPs play a leading role.  Historically they have intervened when people are further along the Life Curve and already dependent on others.  Now AHPs are intervening much earlier on the Life Curve, preventing the deterioration of skills and helping people to maintain their levels of independence and health.

Initiatives such as the ‘Balance Challenge’ and the ‘Super Six’ – implemented by local AHPs – are examples of exercises which reduce the risk of falls by increasing activity levels and developing muscles and balance.

Patients and carers who spoke at the event had a huge impact, telling delegates what mattered to them and how AHPs had helped them to achieve their goals.

The mother of a child with physical difficulties told of the life-changing impact of physiotherapy interventions delivered in their own community and tailored to fit family and school life.

She highlighted how involving the whole family in her child’s programme had resulted in integrating the treatment into ordinary family activities. 

Another example was a patient who was dependent on others for help with laces and showering, but after being encouraged by the dietician to get more active through a graduated walking programme, had better mental health, weight loss, and no longer required help with activities of daily living.

The AHP Learning Together Event was supported by a number of speakers including Audrey Taylor, NHS Education for Scotland, who led delegates in discussion; Kirsty Brightwell, GP, who spoke of the new GP contract and the expectation that physiotherapists and occupational therapists would be working more closely with GP surgeries in the future; and Moraig Rollo, Lead AHP for Orkney Health and Care, who shared some of the work that AHPs in Orkney are doing.

Moraig was so impressed with the NHS Western Isles event that she hopes to organise a similar event in Orkney.

There were also a number of displays by AHPs highlighting local examples of good practice. Other displays included: the Move More Western Isles project; Western Isles Sensory Centre; mental health initiatives; Sunnd, the Galson Estate programme promoting health in their area; Western Isles Community Care Forum; mPower; Chest, Heart and Stroke; Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative; Western Isles Nova; and a self-management programme run by Dr Gail Cunningham.

“A good time was had by all,” added Rhoda Mackay. “People came away with clearer ideas of each others’ roles and what is currently working well here, a better understanding of what the Active and Independent Living Programme is all about, and what it looks like in real life.”


Photo: Pictured are event speakers and organisers.

Backrow (l-r): Kirsty Brightwell, GP/NHSWI Associate Medical Director for Primary Care; Rhoda Mackay, NHSWI AHP Practice Education Lead; Audrey Taylor, Principle Educator NHS Education for Scotland; Sheila Nicolson, NHSWI Physiotherapy Manager; Emma Macsween, Head of Social and Partnership Services CnES; Sonja Smit, NHS WI Occupational Therapy Head of Service.

Frontrow (l-r): Evelyn Macleod, NHSWI Rehabilitation Administrator; Susan Kelso, AHP National Lead Early Intervention (Scottish Government); Moraig Rollo, Lead AHP Orkney Health and Care; Christine Lapsley, NHSWI Speech and Language Therapy Manager/AHP Children’s Services Lead; Sarann Macphee, NHSWI Podiatry Services Manager; Karen France, NHSWI Nutrition and Dietetic Manager