Linda Hindle is the Deputy Chief Allied Health Professional Officer, working for Public Health England as Lead AHP and Public Health Engagement Lead for the Emergency Services. Here, she outlines the need for public health placements for  Allied Health Professional students and how RSPH is planning to help facilitate them,

I am delighted to see the publication by the Royal Society for Public Health of an overview of the barriers and opportunities for expanding public health placements for Allied Health Professional (AHP) students. AHP engagement in public health and prevention has increased over recent years and the UK AHP public health strategic framework sets out the commitment to do more. One of the priorities within the strategic framework is to ensure newly qualified AHPs are equipped with the skills, knowledge and attributes to embed public health and prevention into their practice and take actions to reduce health inequalities. The Council of Deans of Health Guidance: Public Health Content within the Pre-Registration Curricula for Allied Health Professions was published at the start of this journey and since then there have been efforts to increase availability and uptake of public health placements.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a rapid re-imagining of practice-based learning including virtual placements. This, alongside the drive to increase overall placement capacity to meet the growing demand for Allied Health Professions, has created an opportunity to expand public health placements. 

Health Education England recently committed to support a collaborative project to address this with the following aims:

  • To explore the opportunities and barriers to increasing public health placement capacity from the perspective of students, higher education institutions, practice placement coordinators, clinical teams and potential providers of public health placements including providers in the voluntary sector
  • To develop a toolkit to simplify and streamline the setting up of public health placements for AHP students
  • To create a digital tool to support the matching of interested AHP students with potential placement settings

This publication from the Royal Society for Public Health is the first outcome from the project.

It is clear from this work that there is support to increase public health placements for AHP students; not only would this expand the total number of placements on offer when supply for clinical placements is running short, but public health placements were seen as the right thing to do and in line with the general trajectory of healthcare in the NHS. Participants recognised that placements in public health settings are likely to support the creation of 21st century AHPs with transferable skills in communication, teamworking, leadership, planning, problem-solving, adaptability and networking.

Despite this, there remains a challenge in breaking the long-held view that students who have done all their practice placements in settings offering hands-on clinical experience are more employable.

AHP students have a lot to offer public health providers; they bring extra capacity, an evidence based clinical skill set and a different perspective and set of solutions to long-standing obstacles. A frequent challenge is limited awareness and recognition of what different AHPs do and the value they bring, this means potential placement providers may not have a strong sense of what AHP students could bring to their organisation and doubt that they will be best placed to support a student.

Finally, there is a disconnect between those public health organisations who may benefit from the support of an AHP student and would be able to offer a challenging student placement; and higher education institutions and students looking to find placements. We hope the digital tool will be a solution to this and provide a go to place for connecting placements with students.

This insight work is the start of a journey to increase awareness of, availability of and desire for public health placements. In doing this, it will be supporting the future sustainability of the health and care system and the transformation towards population healthcare.

My thanks to Beverley Harden in Health Education England for championing this work, to Florence Gildea and Kiran Kenth from the RSPH who led this research, to Rachael Mason and Laura Charlesworth from the University of Lincoln for supporting, and to everyone who participated in the focus groups during this very busy time.