Thinking wider about workforce

I saw a tweet this morning from a local provider partnership seeking exercise instructors willing to train in falls management. The challenge of workforce is ever present in the NHS right now. I think we need to think more creatively and use the breadth of the workforce we have if we are ever to deliver on our ambition to improve the MSK health of the population and ensure excellent services for those who need them.

Community MSK is the backbone of MSK. Most people with an MSK condition will never need secondary care and most of those who do will also use community services. Say the words community MSK and most people will immediately think physiotherapy. I would argue that community MSK services will be stronger and deliver a better service to patients if they are delivered by a broad multi-disciplinary team. This is what ARMA, and the BestMSK Health programme are all about – multiple perspectives being stronger than siloed working.

Here’s how wide I think the MSK workforce can be. Firstly, there are the professions that ARMA represents but sometimes seem forgotten. Everyone thinks podiatry when looking at diabetes pathways yet ignores the fact that MSK podiatrists can contribute to addressing lower limb conditions. Many don’t realise that osteopaths are AHPs. Most people seem to think that chiropractic is an unregulated profession when their regulatory body is statutory and overseen by the Professional Standards Authority which also oversees regulators for doctors, nurses, AHPs and pharmacists. And surely sport therapists and sport rehabilitators have a lot to offer that isn’t being used right now.

In my view we need to think of the MSK workforce even wider than this. There are professions you might not immediately think of in relation to MSK but are nonetheless important, such as dieticians (who are members of ARMA). Good diet and maintaining a healthy weight are both important in MSK health. Pharmacists are the first port of call for any number of painful MSK conditions. They will give advice to many people who will never see another healthcare professional. Many people will choose to see private practitioners before reaching out to the NHS, especially with waiting times as they are now. They are an important part of the MSK pathway and can set the tone long before NHS practitioners get involved.

Let’s think even wider than that. There are a huge range of professionals talking to people about their MSK health without using the term. Exercise instructors, sports coaches, yoga and Pilates teachers, even dance teachers should all be considered part of the MSK prevention workforce.

And while I am talking about workforce, I have to mention that ARMA’s own small workforce is changing. Nita has led our policy and communications for over six years but is now moving on to pastures new. She will be missed, not least by me, and we wish her well in her new role. Which leaves ARMA with a workforce challenge of our own, so if you know of anyone who might be interested, please do send them the details.