When you need an AHP, not a GP

Returning to the running machine at the gym after the excesses of Christmas was a bigger challenge than usual for me this year.

I had mistakenly assumed that with a few days break that nagging pain in my right knee would just disappear, and I’d be able to get back to jogging a few miles, perhaps even return to slow paced football.
I was barely a few hundred yards in to my jog when I realised that I needed to make the call I’d been putting off. I didn’t want to see a GP, but our GPs have always been the gatekeepers for referral to the ‘right people’.

Who are the right people? Invariably they are the third biggest group of health workers in the NHS. They’re not the doctors or the nurses. Allied Health Professionals, or AHPs as we say for short, are over 170,000 in number and we are often referred to them to make us better.

AHPs include physios, OTs, dieticians, radiographers, orthoptists, paramedics, podiatrists, prosthetists, speech and language therapists as well as drama, art and music therapists.

But back to my knee for a moment. When I got through on a call to the GP reception, a very polite and apologetic lady told me that that I wouldn’t be able to see the GPs for days. As if it was a consolation prize, she then said: “However, you could come in to see a physiotherapist next Wednesday, if you can’t wait for the GP. If you don’t mind.”

If I don’t mind?! I explained that I didn’t want to see the GP at all. It was actually a physiotherapist that I felt that I needed, and how glad I was that my surgery was now starting to embrace the brave new world of multi-disciplinary services.

Since then we’ve seen the launch of the NHS Long Term Plan, and as Chair of the Allied Health Professions Federation, I must say there are some encouraging words in it about the need to invest in more joined up services in community settings. In recent days we’ve seen further announcements about plans to train 20,000 more NHS staff to ensure GP time is spent more appropriately.

But for us all, as patients, the proof of the pudding will be in how these plans are carried out in practice, including the investment required in the workforce to make it happen. Local organisation and some culture change will be required too, to get the very best out of the mix of talents we have in our NHS.
As for my knee, I’m grateful to the physio who has set me a strict daily programme of stretches. Three weeks later I think it’s making a difference. I didn’t need to see my doctor, just an AHP.

Parmjit Dhanda
Chair, AHPF