Rehabilitation at AECC University College

Caroline Belchamber is Course Lead for the MSc Physiotherapy (Pre-Registration) postgraduate degree at AECC University College. She has over 28 years’ experience working as a Physiotherapist, specialising in respiratory, palliative, supportive and end of life care.

At the recent World Physiotherapy Congress in April 2021, Caroline won an award for her presentation of her research into ‘The Evolving Role of Physiotherapists within Palliative Care Teams: Education, Policy and Practice.’

She tells us more about winning this accolade, her current research interests, and her passion for inspiring the next generation of researchers across the Allied Health Professions:

“It was great to win an award for my presentation; it was a very nice surprise! The World Physiotherapy Congress was held remotely for three days and there were some really interesting talks around long Covid in particular.

“It was really interesting to hear about other practitioners’ lived experience working with long Covid patients, as well as more about research into the condition. 

“I’m really keen to drive forward research in Physiotherapy and to get students engaged. The more we get the Allied Health Professions involved in research, the more practitioners understand the importance of research and evidence-based practice to improve the quality of the treatments that we provide. It helps us as practitioners to deliver care that follows best practice.

“It’s important that patients also have a voice in their care, and it’s not just us as professionals deciding what is right for them. It’s about shaping research so that patients can contribute.”

Caroline’s current research

“Before working at AECC University College, I was Professional Education Lead for four years and Interim Research Lead for one year at Sue Ryder. The charity provides palliative, neurological and bereavement support for people with long-term conditions.

“I was involved in some research that saw Sue Ryder collaborate with the University of Leeds. We conducted research across seven of the charity’s hospices and four of its neurological centres, exploring the benefits of physical activity in end of life care.

“We published our research in 2020, entitled: Physical Activity in Hospice Care: A Social Ecological Perspective to Inform Policy and Practice.

“Since coming to AECC University College, I am keen to implement the findings of this research into local practice. I’ve been exploring whether our local hospices would be keen to take part in this and they seem very willing. My plans have been held up by Covid-19, but hopefully this is something that we can start progressing again soon.

“If we can secure the necessary funding, I’d really like to involve our MSc Physiotherapy students in this.”

Rehabilitation

“I also lead the Rehabilitation Research Group for the School of PSPA at AECC University College. This is a key area of interest for me, as my background is in Rehabilitation in palliative care. I’ve previously done research into Rehabilitation in cancer care too.

“We’re building a new Rehabilitation Centre on campus, which will be excellent for our research group. There will be so many opportunities from a research perspective; we have lots of exciting things in the pipeline.

“I’m also Supervisor for our planned long Covid Clinic at the University College. The Clinic is an NHS pilot and is led by three Chiropractic students. It’s a virtual service at the moment and accessible to patients via Your Covid Recovery. We’re hoping to provide on-site placements for our MSc physiotherapy students and collaborate with Physiotherapy students from Bournemouth University on this too.

“Long Covid is, and is going to continue to be, a huge area of focus for Allied Health Professionals. We’re seeing lots of research funding bids that focus on recovery from Covid-19. There’s a big push for rehabilitation services, but I think there’s going to be inequalities around the world.

“There’s going to be a big surge of need for people recovering from Covid and long Covid, and also those who were shielding. The mental health impact of that will be significant. The health of the nation, and the world, will need addressing after the pandemic.

“In the UK, it’s an issue of capacity and it will be a major undertaking across the NHS.”

Helping patients to thrive

“There’s a big push for rehabilitation at the moment by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and by Macmillan and other charities, who have done a lot of work in this area.

“We are also talking a lot about prehabilitation and the efficacy of physical activity in preventing diseases like cancer. Many cancers are caused by obesity and lifestyle choices, such as alcohol and smoking.

“As the treatments for cancer are improving, and people are living longer, cancer is now considered a long-term condition. This means that people are living with debilitating symptoms that are the result of cancer and its treatments. The challenge comes in helping patients to manage these symptoms; rehabilitation is all about improving quality of life and we want patients to be thriving, rather than just surviving.

“Rehabilitation involves multi-disciplinary support; for example if a patient is recovering from Covid-19, it might be about helping them to manage their fatigue, teaching them pacing techniques, and implementing non-pharmacological approaches to breathlessness.

“A lot of support comes in the form of education, helping patients to understand their symptoms and reducing their fears and anxieties. It’s supporting people who might be experiencing panic attacks, or not sleeping, to calm and distract themselves through different therapies. 

“It’s important that patients feel supported, but you also don’t want them to become dependent on you. You want them to feel capable of managing their own recovery and be in control.

“Support networks are often really important for people in helping them to feel less alone. It’s really valuable for patients to meet other people who are coping with the same kinds of symptoms too.”

Membership of research bodies  

“In October 2020 I joined the south central Council for Allied Health Professionals Research (CAHPR). This is a professional network for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and I’m a Hub Facilitator.

“We try and work with local partners on events and outreach, and to support clinicians who are doing research. We discuss their research ideas with them and see how we can support them.

“I’ve been a member of the Physiotherapy Research Society (PRS) since 2012. Last year, I decided that I wanted to become a more active member of the Society and so applied to become a committee member and membership secretary.  

“The Society is a platform for novice researchers to disseminate their research. We recently held our annual virtual conference, which was attended by some of my current MSc Physiotherapy students. I’m hoping that once they have completed their dissertations next year, they might consider submitting their abstracts for the next PRS conference and perhaps even present their research.

“I’m also a member of the Physiotherapy Research Society’s online training sub-committee group; we’re developing online training, to support students and clinicians with writing abstracts, publications and research ideas. I’m also a member of the peer-support sub-committee, which is a group that aims to guide people to the right support around their research.”

You can find out more about our MSc Physiotherapy (Pre-Registration) postgraduate degree here.

Caroline Belchamber

Above: Dr. Caroline Belchamber