Published: 04/03/2004, Volume II4, No. 5895 Page 34 35

Allied health professionals will soon be required to undertake continuing professional development in order to practise.The Health Professions Council is thrashing out the details and the requirements.

Sally Mesner reports

Improving professional knowledge and competence as an allied health professional has traditionally been an obligation for members of professional bodies, but has never been mandatory.

However, plans underway at the Health Professions Council mean this is about to change.

After the HPC's creation in 2002, titles such as physiotherapist and radiographer became protected, meaning that practitioners must re-register every two years to continue practising. But from 2005, the HPC is developing its remit to maintain the standards of professional training, performance and conduct of 12 of the allied health professions.

And it plans to make it a requirement that health professionals with protected titles must demonstrate they have carried out continued professional development (CPD) in order to re-register.

HPC education and training committee chair Eileen Thornton says its main objective is to protect the public and make sure it gets the best and most effective treatment possible.

'Practice changes over time and there should be commitment from the practitioner to keep up to date, ' she says. 'The professions are not unused to doing CPD, but there will always be people who will not do it if they do not have to.

This constitutes a risk to the public.We want to make CPD compulsory both in the eyes of practitioners and their managers.'

The HPC plans to develop a generic framework of rules and standards that will build on the CPD professional bodies are already providing. 'We hope to work more closely with the professional bodies, ' says Ms Thornton. 'The details will be thrashed out in our consultation in June, but what we do not want to do is come up with something that involves pages and pages of paperwork.'

Many of the professional bodies seem to be one step ahead of the HPC, anticipating how their current CPD systems may fit into its new framework.

The Society and College of Radiographers, for example, is working to update its existing CD-ROM - developed to help members archive and record what they have learnt - into a more user-friendly web-based tool.

'People are not as good at recording what they have done as they could be, ' says director of professional policy Professor Audrey Patterson. 'This tool will help them to do this.We are anticipating making it link to any CPD requirements HPC brings in.'

Elsewhere, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists is leading a Department of Health project to structure and evaluate CPD. The society hopes the project, Demonstrating Competence through CPD, will influence how HPC designs its framework.

CSP head of CPD Julia O'Sullivan says: 'We have been working with members to help them record what they've done and translate it into what we anticipate HPC will require.We are trying to prepare people.

'All the issues around re-registering have tended to focus members'minds on the main purpose of CPD being re-registration. There is a lot of anxiety about what people will have to do.Members should be looking at their broader learning and development.'

One body that does not currently provide CPD for its members is the British Paramedic Association. Chief executive Roland Furber hopes that compulsory CPD will give paramedics more powers to treat patients out of the hospital environment.

'With a wider knowledge base, paramedics would be able to advise patients rather than merely ferry them to hospital, ' he says.

'We want paramedics to have the power to determine their own diagnosis without reference to medics.We want to look at the basic education and training of a paramedic and then make sure it is continuously applied in CPD.'

Linking re-registration to CPD will mean that the HPC sets up an auditing process, although how this will work will not be decided until after the council has gone out to consultation this summer.

British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists executive professional officer Ken Andrew welcomes the prospect: 'We encourage our members to keep a portfolio.We have always told them: 'You might as well get started because pretty soon it will be audited, ' and that is what the HPC is now going to do.

'We ask them to keep notes of courses they attend, keep any certificates and write a piece about learning experiences - which may be something You have done that day, or it may come from sitting watching a Horizon documentary on diabetes . But we want people to take note of that experience, otherwise it will be lost.'

And this, says Ms Thornton, is the essence of what the HPC hopes to achieve by linking CPD to re-registration. 'The key to our approach is to get practitioners to collect evidence, write it down and reflect on it. People just do not realise how much they are doing already - It is just a case of organising themselves to get their evidence in hard form.

'We need to clarify what CPD is, ' she adds. 'It doesn't have to mean courses; it encompasses a wide range of activities. This will be a big part of our consultation.

In many cases, it is nothing more than what people are doing already.'

One of the main concerns of the professional bodies is that employers have neither the time nor resources to make sure that compulsory CPD is carried out.

Professor Patterson says: 'Our difficulty is the employers'willingness to use CPD at a local level.

Historically, no money has been provided for postqualification training.

Small trust funds have been used to pay for CPD for radiographers.

Whether it is time or money, both are difficult for employers and there is a shortage of radiographers.

We welcome the fact that CPD will become mandatory [as] radiographers have struggled to achieve their CPD obligations. The problem is the employers not providing funding and time off.We have done our bit, our members have done their bit, and the HPC is doing its bit. But there is a funding gap.We have to generate recognition of responsibility at the level of the employer.'

Some of the professional bodies already have 'time off ' policies in place, but most want more done to put pressure on employers to provide protected time for CPD.

Ms O'Sullivan says: 'Our policy statement recommends half a day a month for personal learning time, to do things like literature searching or looking at the evidence base. Some trusts already provide protected time, but not all. It is a big issue for physiotherapists if courses are all run at the weekend as some will not get time off in lieu and will have to do it in their spare time.'

Ms Thornton hopes that a mandatory audit will be a catalyst for employers to see the purpose of CPD. 'Protected time is not part of the HPC's remit, ' she says.

'But what we are doing may make employers look differently at CPD, and it may encourage them to think about providing time.'

Protected titles

Arts therapists

Orthoptists

Biomedical scientists

Prosthetists and orthotists

Chiropodists/podiatrists

Paramedics

Clinical scientists

Physiotherapists

Dietitians

Radiographers

Speech and language therapists

Occupational therapists

Further information

Health Professions Council www. hpc-uk. org