Alison Dunn, Advancing Healthcare Awards and Chris Ryan, Attend Anywhere talk technology, the effect of COVID-19 and how Allied Health heroes have been instrumental to the fight
We are all aware of the huge impact that every NHS essential worker has had on the nation over the last year due to the pandemic - and before of course! But while we may have been focusing on the tireless efforts of the doctors and nurses on the COVID-19 frontline, it is also important to showcase the phenomenal, life saving work of other sectors of the healthcare profession. This includes Allied Health Professionals (or AHPs) and healthcare scientists many of whom have themselves been performing critical work in COVID wards while helping keep the rest of the nation healthy.
The Advancing Healthcare Awards were founded by healthcare communications agency Chamberlain Dunn twenty years ago to promote the fantastic things that people across the sector are doing every single year. In 2021, Attend Anywhere, which empowers video call access to the health service and beyond, making travel optional, sponsored the prestigious AHP Clinical Leadership Award.
In this blog, we talk to Chris Ryan, Founder of Attend Anywhere, and Alison Dunn, Joint MD of Chamberlain Dunn to talk about the Advancing Healthcare Awards and achievements of the AHP and healthcare scientist community over the last year.
Let’s start with an introduction, what do you do and what brought you to where you are today?
Chris Ryan (CR) - I’m Chris, founder and CEO of Attend Anywhere. Our company has worked with government’s hospitals and health systems for many years, helping make video call access business-as-usual. Allied Health professionals across the globe have always been early trailblazers, innovators, and champions of this vision and never more so than over the last 18 months, so it was really an honour to sponsor the AHP Clinical Leadership Award at this years’ Advancing Healthcare Awards.
Alison Dunn (AD) - I’m Ali, the joint MD of Chamberlain Dunn, a healthcare communications agency. We set up the Advancing Healthcare Awards twenty years ago when a contact at the Department of Health mentioned that AHPs and healthcare scientists didn’t get the attention they deserved. Doctors and nurses, rightfully, get a lot of positive mentions in the public domain, but these groups are less well known, when they very much should be recognised. So we founded the Advancing Healthcare Awards to showcase the fantastic work that they do- with many of our first entries coming through via fax machine, we’re completely online now and have support from all four countries in the UK.
What are the main challenges that Allied Health Professionals have been facing during the pandemic?
CR - One of the main challenges experienced by the AHPs isn’t unique to the pandemic but has been compounded by it. Many patients requiring allied health services find it difficult to travel, which was exacerbated by COVID-19 making it incredibly dangerous for many people suffering from pre-existing conditions to leave their homes. AHPs are innovative by nature and are trailblazers for working around challenges, so they took the requirement to pivot ways of working during the pandemic in their stride.
AD - We’ve actually been capturing how AHPs have been overcoming challenges in our Advancing Healthcare Esteem Gallery - you don’t have to be nominated to share your story on there so it has become an incredible record of the amazing work AHPs have done during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have identified two trends through the submissions people have been sending to the Esteem Gallery. Firstly, AHPs jumped on the chance to find new ways of working because many of these changes had been things they’d been thinking about for some time, and now was the perfect time to put them into action. By this I mean activities like virtual consultations and triage which take pressure off key services.
The second key trend which many in the public may not be aware of is the essential role AHPs played on the COVID-19 front line. Many AHPs moved to working in COVID wards and ITU, for example it was identified that patients had a better chance of recovering from the virus when on their fronts, so Occupational Therapists were required to ensure this was done as safely as possible. I’ve heard that ITU workers now don’t know how they did things without an OT on the ward!
How have AHPs been using tech to overcome these challenges, feel free to name drop trusts who you think are doing especially innovative things?
AD: I’ve had two specific conversations with people that I think reflect the wider trend on how AHPs and healthcare scientists have tackled the challenges they’re facing. Firstly, one person told me about how she normally just “dips her toe in the water” when it comes to technology, but because of the implications of COVID she has dived in headfirst. Others have said that when they first started adopting new tech solutions to cope with pandemic challenges they assumed it would be a second best, but have come to realise that it can be the “first best” for both patients and clinicians. A real rising star I spoke with, who works with Near Me (the virtual consultation tool run by the Scottish Government using Attend Anywhere), had very limited tech skills and was nervous to start using the tech. However, she was able to pick it up really quickly and now can’t imagine working without it.
CR - We’ve had a very similar experience speaking with people as Ali. One example is that I was talking to Jamie Parkinson who is Therapies Information Officer at Ashford and St. Peter’s NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey about implementing Attend Anywhere into their workflows. While there was historical resistance to video consultations, as soon as AA was brought in, Jamie saw that those who had shown the most resistance turned around and became the tech’s biggest supporters and have been running with it ever since.
Can you shout out any Allied Health heroes you’ve worked with who have really stood out to you over the last months?
AD - It is so difficult to pick one person as the Esteem gallery is full of inspiring stories, so I’ll pick two at random! Sarah Thompason is Principal Speech and Language Therapist at Kingston Hospital Foundation Trust and has gone above and beyond to put her team above everything during the pandemic. Despite going through difficult personal circumstances, Sarah has not taken leave and covered for other staff members when they have time off. She has also encouraged the team to seek assistance from the wellness team and has cultivated a light and happy atmosphere at work. As well, Jody Pazstor who is a Paediatric Physiotherapist at the Swansea Bay University Health Board who has led change in her team as well as being re-deployed to frontline adult COVID services. She also volunteered as a Wellbeing Champion and fulfilled the role with verve, leading group workshops and tailored support for individuals’ needs as well as signposting wellbeing resources. On top of all this, Jody has been the team’s IT Champion during their service adoption of Attend Anywhere.
CR - The awards are obviously UK focused, but I also wanted to give a shout out to AHPs in Australia and the Republic of Ireland (in the ROI they’re actually known as Health Social Care Professionals - HSCPs) who have really trail-blazed different technology to give their patients the best possible experience over the last year or so. eHealth Ireland has developed a series of webinars showcasing the key learnings they have gathered using video-enabled care across different HSCP sectors including audiology, School Age Intervention MDT and Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) which are definitely worth checking out to learn from the fantastic things they are doing.
The Advancing Healthcare Awards took place on the 21st May, what was your favourite part of the virtual ceremony?
AD - Of course we would much rather it was an in-person ceremony so we could see everyone in the flesh, but one of the big benefits of the ceremony being virtual was that finalists could record videos about their work. The participants found such creative ways to tell their stories and the fact it is recorded means this can be a lasting tribute to the work AHPs and Healthcare Scientists have done over the period - just visit our website to have a look at the videos. I have to give a shout out to the finalists from Northern Ireland who filmed their introduction at Stormont Castle with the Minister of Health, Robin Swann - that was really special.
CR - There has been such a great vibe around the awards during the whole process, it has been such a pleasure to be a part of it. I wasn’t able to attend all of the ceremony because of the time difference between the UK and Australia, but I watched the recording afterwards and was completely blown away by all the videos people sent in.
Anything else you want to mention?
CR - Congratulations to Chamberlain Dunn for pulling this together, especially after such difficult circumstances over the last few years. Nothing brings together all of the AHP profession like these awards so having something that celebrates all of their achievements is such an important initiative and we’re so proud to be involved.
AD - Just that we have a few more exciting things in the pipeline for AHPs. We are launching the Advancing Healthcare Awards Wales in early June as part of the Welsh Government Conference; we are working with AHPs in Northern Ireland on a conference on 30 September; and we are also very excited to be partnering with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare to launch the Sustainable Healthcare Awards. Check out our website for more information: https://ahawards.co.uk/