Work/life interview: learning disability physiotherapy
By Dan Allard
In the first of our new work/life series of blog articles, we speak to physiotherapist Tess Ellis who has a background in learning disability physiotherapy. Tess tells us about her career and why she’s so passionate about postural care.
Why did you choose to train as a physiotherapist?
I always knew that I wanted to do a degree; I was looking for something vocational which would train me to do something specific and result in a career which helped people. It seemed that of all the healthcare professions, physiotherapy would give me the most face-to-face time with patients.
As time has gone on however, it’s become apparent that the more senior your role, the less time you spend working directly with patients. It also seems as though physiotherapists at all seniority levels are spending more and more time on admin.
Have you found physiotherapy to be a varied career?
No day is ever the same. I work with patients to manage a number of different conditions and, where possible, support people with learning disabilities to access mainstream services. I spend a lot of time with clients who have established body shape changes or, due to lack of movement, are at risk and this may include developing therapeutic positioning programmes, training carers and working with outside organisations such as wheelchair services.
We work very closely with other professionals in the community learning disability team, such as nurses, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists, and in other settings, for example the orthotics service.
Part of the work in my current role is providing an evidenced-based bowel massage service for clients with chronic constipation, once we have assessed that it’s an appropriate intervention. We teach the patients support network how to massage the stomach to improve their health and the results have been amazing; constipation has improved and dependence on pharmacy has reduced. The massage can also dramatically reduce behaviours that challenge services. This effect is now widely recognised, and referrals often come from psychiatrists and psychologists.
Why did you choose to combine private physiotherapy work with NHS work?
It’s a wonderful mix of work. In my private practice, I can have independence and autonomy to work with the client in my preferred way. But there are some incredibly talented people working within the NHS and it’s great to be able to work alongside them and learn from them.
What is the highlight of your career?
My work in postural care is a highlight - in my private practice, I have been involved in national groups to promote awareness and training. I also contributed to the new national strategy which is yet to be released but has had cross-party approval.
Would you like to see learning disability work become a core part of a physio training?
Yes - It’s such a broad scope of work yet learning disability isn’t covered by undergraduate training. I would hope that this will change; too often, we have people come into posts who have never worked with people with learning disabilities before.