Measuring the quality of community services: AHPs into Action

How improved outcomes data on allied health professionals can help support the NHS into the future.

Blog post

Published: 29/11/2017

Allied health professionals (AHPs) deliver a large proportion of community-based health services. Following our community services briefing, the NHS's chief AHP officer describes how NHS England plans to improve understanding of AHPs' work and better measure their impact. 

As Chief Allied Health Professions Officer for England, I welcome the recent QualityWatch report on community services.

As the third largest workforce in NHS and care services Allied Health Professions (AHPs) play a dominant role in the community services and will continue to do so as services develop.

The lack of quality data collected at a national level, demonstrated by QualityWatch’s report, reflects the need for AHPs to more routinely demonstrate the impact that they have on people and populations. Improving data on community AHPs services will help commissioners and the public know how good services are, and if they could be provided differently.

This is why we are making the measurement of AHP outcomes a priority over the next year as part of our work to implement AHPs into Action.

AHPs into Action

AHPs into Action is a framework published by NHS England in January 2017 that articulates the impact, commitments and priorities of, and for, the AHP workforce. It describes how AHPs can support the Five Year Forward View and their transformative potential within health, care and wider settings, evidenced by over 50 case studies. It also provides questions for providers, commissioners and the system to guide their thinking on the role of the AHP workforce.

In reviewing community services, QualityWatch have identified there is a need to capture the outcome of interventions and to increase information on which we can base judgements of safety and quality. Two areas that underpin this are also key to AHPs into Action: outcome measures and a digitally mature AHP workforce.

Outcome measures

Gaining consensus on outcomes measures to use across diverse services and professions is challenging, but this will be key to the development of AHP services in the community.

Professionals recognise the need to collect outcome measures, but they are not consistently collected to ensure comparisons can be made at a population level or between services. Recognised barriers to the routine collection of outcome measures data are apparent at individual, managerial and organisational levels and there needs to be targeted action at each of these points.

As clinicians we, as AHPs, need to demonstrate how our individual interventions and services contribute to broader outcomes for citizens and communities. We need to articulate how our unique selling points translate to patient reported outcomes and experience measures.

Organisations need to support clinicians in achieving this, and hold them to account for performance and improvement, by assuring that quality reporting reflects the effectiveness of interventions, as well as safety and patient experience. This can be facilitated at both local and national organisational levels by embedding outcome measures in national and local datasets.

A digitally mature workforce

The capturing of quality data will also require a digitally mature workforce, comfortable with technology and data and how to use it effectively.

A digitally mature workforce will be able to keep electronic records; collect data that support datasets, audits and research; and use data to demonstrate productivity and quality. They will be able to align this to strategic agendas such as the GIRFT programme, Right Care and the Model Hospital.

With support from NHS Digital and professional bodies, we have developed an AHP digital framework to support this development of a digitally mature AHP workforce. This includes creating a network of AHP services who already support high quality care with digital technology, encouraging collaboration across specialties and increasing awareness of wider digitisation and data agendas. We also plan to produce a set of best practice blueprints that can be adopted by other AHP services.

Authority to act

As the QualityWatch community services briefing has clearly identified, community services are crucial to easing the pressures in the NHS. Data to evidence the quality of these services is limited, but without it we will continue to be unable to provide accurate evidence and assurance of the effectiveness of our services.

AHPs into Action is a call to action for AHPs, their managers and organisations. It gives them authority to act. By acting on the areas highlighted in the QualityWatch community services briefing, AHPs will be able to evidence their contribution and impact for the individual, the teams they work in, community services, and the health and care system as a whole.