A week in the life of an AHP Specialist in Digital Health

Published on 20 September 2022, by Simon Gaffney

Digital roles and career pathways, Allied Health Professions (AHPs)

I am Simon Gaffney, a Senior Physiotherapist and Allied Health Professional (AHP) Specialist in Digital Health at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. I have been part of the Digital Health team for approaching a year now and am currently the only AHP on the team. I work part time in Digital Health and part time in a regular clinical role.

Monday 

I’m on a duty shift today. We run a rota in the team to cover duty every weekday.  This is a reactive function, staying flexible to respond to incidents and short notice meetings. If an IT related incident is logged with our trust Service Desk that requires clinical knowledge or a clinically influenced decision, these are allocated to the Digital Health Team and the person on duty responds. If a Priority 1 IT incident occurs, the person on duty represents the Digital Health team on the emergency call to bring clinical knowledge and experience to the meeting. This could be anything from an unexpected outage of the electronic patient record to the loss of connectivity in the hospital DECT phone system. 

I don’t have many meetings scheduled for today. We try to keep our calendars clear on duty days. If all runs smoothly, I’ll spend most of my day catching up on emails, arranging meetings and writing up reports on my live projects. 

Tuesday 

I’m out on the wards in the hospital supporting the roll-out of a new medication administration system. It seems odd to a lot of the nursing staff that a physio would support a medication administration project, but in the Digital Health team, we work on projects across all disciplines and professions. 

Our role in these projects is to make sure the new digital systems are clinically safe, that they are effective and that our clinical staff have the support they need to operate them. Leadership and communication are central to our role as Digital Health Specialists. We make sure that the clinical realities are reflected at project meetings. Speaking the language of clinicians, IT teams and project teams makes us an effective communication bridge to make sure IT development is clinically driven and not the other way round. 

Wednesday 

Today is a day of meetings, starting with a review of the development “Backlog”.  Every month, our team sit with our Business Analyst colleagues to review the queue of development work that has been requested in the trust. We do this to help inform the senior Information Management and Technology management and Chief Nursing Information Officers/Chief Clinical Information Officers on what should be considered for urgent prioritisation. We also make sure that these requests have all the clinical and technical information they need to proceed. If they don’t, one of us may look to progress the project by facilitating this. 

Much of what we do is to guide others through processes that are sometimes difficult to navigate. This is where leadership and communication skills are essential to empower colleagues with expert knowledge in their specialism to engage with quality improvement in the digital sphere.   

This afternoon is a meeting of our Therapy Services Digital Leaders. I set up this scheme a few months ago to improve the engagement of Therapy Services in digital improvement and innovation. In our trust, Therapy Services is made up of six departments: physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psychology, podiatry, dietetics, and speech and language therapy. Ensuring we have representation from each of these departments is essential in developing multi-disciplinary team digital working and to promote the spread of innovative ideas and best working practices. 

Thursday and Friday 

Thursday and Friday are my usual clinical days. I work as a senior Musculoskeletal (MSK) Physiotherapist in a community health centre in Newcastle. The knowledge I can bring from my digital job into my clinical job is very useful for service improvement projects of my own and when supporting colleagues. I’m lucky that both of my jobs are relatively flexible if I plan in advance. I can swap days around if I need to make time for training or meetings which is very helpful. 

Reflection 

This is a relatively typical week for me. Sure, there are weeks when I feel I’m behind my desk more than I like to be. But equally there are some weeks where I’m spending all my time doing engagement work on the wards. It is certainly not mundane, and no two weeks are the same. It can be challenging working a split role, you sometimes need to remind yourself that you don’t have two full-time jobs. I do find that my roles complement one another. Being clinical for part of my week helps me keep in touch with the challenges and frustrations that we face daily. The skills I develop in my digital role make me a better clinician, a better colleague, and a better leader. 

SG Simon Gaffney

Simon Gaffney

Senior Physiotherapist and AHP Specialist in Digital Health

Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


Simon is a Senior Physiotherapist and AHP Specialist in Digital Health at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. In his digital health capacity, Simon works as part of a clinical multi-disciplinary team alongside IT and project teams to promote and develop the digital maturity of the Trust. His work spans from the optimisation of electronic documentation to supporting clinical teams in digital innovation.