Better data needed on growing part of the NHS workforce

Allied health professionals are a growing part of the NHS workforce, yet there is remarkably little data on the contribution they make to quality of care, our research reveals.


Press release

Published: 30/09/2014

Allied health professionals (AHPs) are a growing part of the NHS workforce, accounting for over £2bn of the salary bill, yet there is remarkably little data on the contribution they make to the quality of patient care, our latest research reveals.

In a comprehensive new report, published as part of the QualityWatch programme, researchers examine the role of AHPs – practitioners in the public, private and voluntary sector who deliver services including physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and paramedic services. 

There has been a significant increase in AHP numbers, with registered practitioners rising by 53% since 2002.

The analysis finds that there has been a significant increase in the numbers of AHPs, with numbers of registered practitioners rising by 53% since 2002, and NHS-based practitioners rising by a third. This meant that by 2013, AHPs made up around 6% of the NHS workforce and accounted for an estimated £2bn of the NHS salary bill. 

According to the research, the role that AHPs play in delivering care is likely to increase further into the future as the population ages and people live with more complex needs. 

Despite this, comprehensive data on the impact AHPs have on the quality of care is not routinely collected. In the few areas where data is now collected – for example the inclusion of speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy metrics in the National Stroke Audit – the evidence shows that quality has improved. 

Holly Dorning, Research Analyst at the Nuffield Trust said:

“With the population ageing, and health and social care services under unprecedented financial pressure, there is a real need to understand the impact that different groups in the workforce have on quality. This helps us to ensure the quality of care people receive and importantly, allows us to spot opportunities for improvement. 

“The data and information we have on people’s health and care has improved greatly in the past few years. We know much more about what is happening but it is important that all professional groups are included in this.

“We are however hampered by a huge data gap when we seek to understand the contribution AHPs make to peoples’ care. As we progress towards better joined up health and social care, it is crucial that we bridge this gap by designing datasets focused more on people which allow us to capture all aspects of care. Better linked datasets will also provide useable benchmarks to assess care quality.”

The research also shows that AHPs vary not just by profession and their public, private and voluntary mix but also by their growth rate, size and regional density. 

The research offers a series of recommendations to improve our understanding of the AHP workforce: 

  1. Recording a broader range of AHP activities which go beyond basic hospital care. With AHPs given the training and technology to collect meaningful and consistent data. 
  2. Linking information across data sets.
  3. Using this data to create benchmarking; ensuring it translates into improved practice.
  4. Continue to add to the research which looks at the quality of AHP care, looking at both short and long-term outcomes.

Notes to editors

  • Focus On: Allied Health Professionals: can we measure quality of care? is authored by Holly Dorning and Martin Bardsley. It is the seventh ‘Focus On’ report published as part of the QualityWatch programme.
  • QualityWatch is a major research programme from the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation that aims to provide independent scrutiny into how the quality of health and social care is changing over time.
  • The Nuffield Trust is an authoritative and independent source of evidence-based research and policy analysis for improving health care in the UK. It conducts cutting edge research and influential analysis, informs and generates debate, supports leaders, and examines international best practice.
  • The Health Foundation is an independent charity working to improve the quality of healthcare in the UK.  It exists to support people working in healthcare practice and policy to make lasting improvements to health services. The Health Foundation carries out research and in-depth policy analysis, runs improvement programmes to put ideas into practice in the NHS, supports and develops leaders and shares evidence to encourage wider change. 

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Appears in

  • 30/09/2014
  • Dr Martin Bardsley | Holly Smith (Dorning)