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City University London research reveals allied health professionals under-utilised in health promotion

Allied health professionals (AHPs) are a key component of the NHS workforce, but new research conducted by City University London suggests that they are being under-utilised when it comes to their role in health promotion.
by Hollie Jenkins

The study, which was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Service Delivery and Organisation programme, has found that published evidence on the role of AHPs in health promotion interventions, such as those designed to tackle smoking and obesity, is limited, and that there are relatively few examples of effectively designed, implemented and evaluated interventions. These findings could have important implications given the UK Government's current focus on health promotion as part of its wider NHS reforms.

The research involved a systematic review of the literature on the role of AHPs in health promotion and revealed mixed results and significant variations between professions.

Dr Justin Needle, Lecturer in Health Services Research and Policy at City University London and lead author of the report, says:

"The Government has a strong focus on health promotion, however, we have identified a clear gap in terms of practice and research in this area.

"The evidence base relating to health promotion by AHPs is very sparse; we found only 141 journal articles across all the AHPs. Musculoskeletal disorders, cancer and obesity were the main areas in which they were involved.

"Their approach to health promotion focused overwhelmingly on individual patients, with most interventions being behavioural or consisting of providing individual education and advice. Interventions aimed at developing communities or even families were surprisingly uncommon.

"Furthermore, the professions varied significantly in terms of their approaches to health promotion and their involvement in evaluation and research. For instance, while physiotherapy and dietetics were overrepresented, radiography was underrepresented and many professions weren't represented at all."

Dr Needle says the report has important implications given the central role that public health and health promotion play in the UK government's health agenda.

"If health promotion is defined as information-giving, advice and support for self-care, there is abundant evidence that it is already a standard component of routine AHP clinical practice. However, on the whole, the interventions we examined appeared to be poorly designed and planned, unsystematically delivered and weakly evaluated. This is not surprising, because researching health promotion is notoriously difficult, but it does raise questions about the capacity of AHPs to respond effectively to calls urging them to expand their health promotion role.

"Although giving information to promote health and self-care may look straightforward, in fact it is a complex intervention. Universities and professional bodies need to work together to enable AHPs to build on their existing skills and knowledge in this area.

"A better understanding of how interventions cause change, better recording of intervention processes and tailoring of interventions to suit local settings would address many of the weaknesses that we identified and enable them to promote health more effectively."

To read the report in full, please follow this link.

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