Findings from the Return to Practice Programme Review

The HPCA Act 2003 requires the Physiotherapy Board to ensure, among other things, the competency of the physiotherapy profession. The Act permits restrictions on issuing an APC [Annual Practising Certificate] if ‘the applicant has not held an APC of a kind sought by the application within three years immediately preceding the date of the application.’

When the Act was introduced it became apparent that a number of physiotherapists wanted to return to work, but for a variety of reasons had let their annual recertification lapse. The Board established the ‘Return To Practice’ (RTP) programme in 2005 to help facilitate these physiotherapists re-join the physiotherapy workforce.

We have now reviewed the programme after its first decade. Our data shows that from 2005 until 2015 143 physiotherapists had applied for an APC after a break of three or more years. 70% of these were successful in returning to practice. The majority (62%) were out of practice for three to five years. This figure has remained consistent over the programme’s 10 years duration.

94% percent of RTP applicants were female, with parenting the main reason given for their break in practice, with 42 the average age. The average number of applicants each year is 14, with a peak of 23 when the RTP programme first started in 2005.

Applicants were surveyed as part of this review to gauge their impression of the process. The majority thought the assessment process was fair or very fair, with one respondent commenting: “I was impressed the process was taken seriously and every effort was made to make sure the standard of practice was high before recertification.” However, some applicants found the process difficult and drawn out, and for a few registration was unattainable.

The main concerns related to communication, and steps have been taken to improve engagement with applicants and give clear guidance on the process.

Since 2011 the conditions imposed on returners to practice include three or six month’s supervision. 80% of applicants found the supervised employment very valuable in assisting their return to practice, and commented the supervision was conducted in a very professional manner. Over 50% of applicants had found supervised employment within four weeks, many having pre-empted the process by discussing work options prior to their application.

Of the physiotherapists who successfully returned to practice 87% are still registered and hold a current APC, 8% are registered as non-practising and 5% have cancelled their registration. These figures are consistent with natural attrition from the profession.

We wish to thank the profession for its support of the programme, especially the willingness to provide supervised employment which enabled those physiotherapists who have had extended periods of absence to return to practice. Feedback is helpful. The recent survey contained some themes around the length of time the application process takes, and we are looking at this to see what improvements we can make.