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A day in the life of an occupational therapist

Today we hear from David, an occupational therapist supporting patients in prison.

Beginning a career in occupational health

After qualifying in 1985, David began his career working in adult social care, supporting HIV/AIDS patients at the height of the epidemic. An interest in mental health led to a career as a self-employed occupational therapist, working with numerous charities over the next 10 years.

However, from 2020, the nation was in and out of lockdown with COVID-19 spreading, and social restrictions made occupational visits incredibly difficult. It was then David decided to look for new opportunities. He was initially cautious about working in a prison but says “it’s actually been a blessing because it brought me back to working in such an interesting setting”.

Occupational therapy for health in justice

David joined Practice Plus Group in April 2021, as an occupational therapist in the health in justice sector at HMP Lewes (a category B prison), and HMP Ford. David feels motivated in his role, stating “it can be a challenge working in the prison environment, but our job is to provide patients in prison with the same level of healthcare as they would in the outside world”.

A day in occupational therapy can vary from helping a patient with mobility issues, to managing severe mental health challenges. David explains, “What we aim to do is to promote people’s independence in daily life, like washing and dressing, and also human occupation that gives us a purpose, like hobbies and work”.

David highlights how workshops and group activities have been successful in supporting mental health patients, allowing them to benefit from social interaction, and this is something he would like to build on: “… with COVID-19, prisons have been locked down as much as people on the outside, so they have had limited social interaction, which can impact mental health”.

In his role, David works closely with a team of nurses and GPs to provide medical coverage for outpatients, and also alongside physiotherapists, opticians and healthcare assistants for sessional work. He explains, “The staff in prison keep people safe, in a compassionate way. There is tremendous potential for work to be done in prisons”.

Opportunities and progression

David is currently mentoring an apprentice occupational therapist, he points out, “When you are newly qualified in the first few years of you working life it’s good to get broad experience, I think that’s something that Practice Plus Group can offer”.

Considering the impact of his role, David explains “I would like to run more groups with prisoners to understand how prisoners feel about receiving healthcare”. He elaborates, “You learn every day in your working life, I would like to do some manual handling training to help move people. Practice Plus Group also offer life-saving training”.

When reflecting on the most rewarding part of his role, David says,

“You get to know people over the weeks and months, and you can see them start to improve when they are having treatment…it’s really nice, you can make a difference and help someone overcome difficulties”


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