We’re celebrating Allied Health Professionals Day (October 15) at Manchester Local Care Organisation by looking at some of the people working in AHP roles across the community each day of this week.
AHPs are the third largest workforce in the NHS. In the main they are degree level professions, and are professionally autonomous practitioners. Our community based AHPs at MLCO provide system-wide care to assess, treat, diagnose and discharge patients.
We start our look at AHPs with Ali Cherriman, a Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist in our North Manchester Service, who tells us a bit more about her role.
Probably the first thing to say about my role is that the name Speech and Language Therapist can be a bit misleading!
Many people think it’s just about helping people with communication. That’s a really important part of the role of an SLT, but we also provide care around swallowing which is equally important. There’s a lot of crossover between the muscles and nerves used in speech and swallowing so the patients I see can have issues with both.
I’m part of the community neuro-rehabilitation team which is a specialist team that supports patients out of hospital. I work with adults in a service for people who have communication and swallowing impairments as a result of a health or medical condition. My patients can be adults with conditions like Parkinson’s Disease, Motor Neurone Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, or they may have an acquired or traumatic brain injury that has affected their communication and swallowing. I also work across the community speech and language therapy team in the north of Manchester so see a wide range of patients.
Having issues with communication can be very traumatic for people. It’s one of the basic needs that people have. If a condition has impacted on their ability to talk and let themselves be heard it can be both frightening and frustrating.
Swallowing problems are similar. It’s such a simple action that we don’t even think about day to day until there is an issue. We will assess and help manage the condition to help identify an unsafe swallow pattern and reduce the risk of them developing aspiration pneumonia (when food or drink enters the airway instead of the stomach) so it’s about keeping people safe and well and helping them with their long term condition. As therapists, we educate patients about their difficulties and help them make informed choices about what to eat and drink.
With speech and language, our aim is to help people structure their language and get their message across better. We’ll assess that patient and carry out a language screen. This gives us a level of their understanding and ability. We then look at how we can best support them. Top tips for supporting somebody’s communication can include slowing down, giving someone extra time, and prompting word finding using strategies; (what letter does it begin with for example, describing it and writing it down).
It can be a very traumatic time. Imagine not being able to communicate with the people that you’ve talked to for years. It’s not just about the patients; we use strategies such as indirect communication. That means adapting the language that the family and carers use. Communication is a two-way process and people need a willing partner to help improve conversations if they are having difficulties.
There’s a range of equipment that we can use that ranges from written aids, picture aids and other systems to help them as part of a programme of therapy. Not everyone can recover their language ability so we can also provide a range of equipment like iPad based tools and higher tech ‘eye gaze’ devices that can track eye movements on a computer screen to communicate.
As part of the neurological community team I work closely with other AHPs. We go out and see a patient, look at all aspects of their health so we can signpost to the right people in the team. The whole multi disciplinary team need to give that extra time and listening skills to support patients referred with communication difficulties.
Working as an AHP in the community
I love working in the community and in North Manchester. It’s such a varied role. We can see the patients in their home setting and really get to know the patient, meet their families and understand how they live. I’ve seen patients in houseboats, prison and a whole range of other settings. With neuro rehab we see patients for as long as they need – generally it can be for up to six months. For our community patients who don’t have such specialist needs it can sometimes be one or two visits. Each patient is different and we base our care around their needs and goals.
Becoming a Speech and Language Therapist
How did I get into being an SLT? Well, I had a very good careers interview where they asked what kind of subjects I like, such as language and biology. I did some work experience with both paediatric and adult teams and then did a course at university and moved up to Manchester eight years ago.
The degree course is usually for four years with a placement element. As an AHP we learn medicine, anatomy, linguistics, language and psychology. There’s a lot of information on the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists website but I’d encourage anyone to take a look at the role, it’s one I love.