Healthcare Support Workers in Practice Education – Emerging Roles

GillFlanniganA year ago I returned to work as an Assistant Practitioner with the West Lothian Children’s OT Service, after breaking my hand completing the Edinburgh half marathon to find an exciting email sitting in my in-box.

It was an advertisement for a secondment opportunity created from a NHS Education Scotland AHP Careers Fellowship to test the role of an Allied Health Professional Health Care Support Worker (HCSW) Assistant Practice Educator.

This was the start of a new and exciting if somewhat daunting journey for me.

In December 2018 as the successful applicant, and once I could fully pronounce my job title, I stepped out of my comfort zone and into the unknown.

The first few months of the secondment became a blur as I tried to negotiate my way through Project plans and Charters, Driver diagrams and an abundance of meetings, all of which were very new to me.

After this initial uncertainty and with a clear purpose of embedding the HCSW Learning Framework into role development and identifying and responding to AHP HCSW learning needs, I settled into the role with support from my practice education colleagues. At around this time NES published the results of the 2018 HCSW’s National Learning Survey which helped to further direct the project work I was doing.

I embarked on a series of introductory workshops across five sites within NHS Lothian, to launch the role of Assistant Practice Educator and to raise awareness of the Learning Framework and Four Pillars of Practice (these sit within Support Worker Central, see link below), to support and enable AHP HCSW’s to access learning and development opportunities specific to their needs.

The workshops were attended by HCSW’s from various AHP backgrounds and from Bands 2-4. Participants engaged enthusiastically and provided valuable feedback with their What Worked Well comments:

‘Good to discuss HCSW Framework and meet up with other HCSW’s’ 

‘Recognising that HCSW’s have a huge skill set across 4 Pillars’

‘Helpful to meet other Assistants and learn of others’ experiences and learn about resources such as Support Worker Central’

‘I feel more supported in my role and don’t feel as isolated or stuck’

‘Good to make me think about the roles I have and get others perspectives on how they fit in to the other pillars – not just Clinical’

And Even Better If comments:

‘Would be good to have increased awareness of other assistant roles and overlap’                

‘Peer Networks’    

‘4 Pillars Workshops’                

‘Capturing the good practice that colleagues are involved in (info shared in introductions – how can this be shared more widely’)

‘Maybe a list of resources or web pages that may be helpful’

I made contacts with as many people as I could to establish who and where all the AHP HCSW’s were working and I tried to reach out to as many HCSW colleagues as possible.

It has been an interesting and exhilarating 10 months that have gone by so fast. I have had the opportunity to meet so many remarkable new people and become part of wider networks across NHS Lothian and nationally; including the HCSW Advisory Group, HCSW Education Network and the Assistant Practice Education peer support group, along with the chance to network with fellow AHP HCSW’s across NHS Scotland.

I have had the time and opportunity to investigate and share invaluable resources such as and

I am still in post as an Occupational Therapy HCSW with the West Lothian Children’s OT Service and as such I am aware of and understand the challenges and opportunities this brings as a career. I have also had the opportunity to further my own development within the Four Pillars of Practice and as such try to practice what I preach. The two roles definitely complement each other, although some days I have to remind myself which hat I am wearing!

There continue to be exciting times ahead both for this project and for all AHP Health Care Support Workers. I am planning follow up workshops to look at the Facilitating Learning Pillar and preparing for a Focus Group to investigate the value and need for peer support networks for HCSW’s.

I am working hard to evidence the need for this role to become substantive in the future as it fits nicely into practice education for HCSW’s and allows for skill mix within the practice education team. It will also ensure AHP HCSW’s are represented and their developmental needs are met appropriately.

From being involved in this project I feel even more passionate about promoting the excellent work of HCSW across NHS Lothian and supporting further development, education and confidence of colleagues to meet their potential.  Everyone has a role to play, HCSW’s are vital members of successful AHP teams and their hard work should not be underestimated. There is so much that can and is being achieved with appropriate skill mix within AHP teams.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and please get in touch, I would love to hear your views/comments on anything I have mentioned.

Many thanks

Gillian or on twitter @gillflannigan @NES_hcsw


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