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Written by Desi Gilespie, 08/07/2024 

First of all, can you tell us a bit about your background and your journey to becoming a First Contact Practitioner? 

I have always worked in multiple positions throughout my career to date as I have always been committed to obtaining as much experience as possible. I started my career working my junior (Band 5) Physiotherapy rotations in a hospital while simultaneously working for the London Scottish Rugby Academy and the Great Britain Disability Shooting team. In subsequent years I continued to seek opportunities, predominantly in sport, however, in 2014 I completed a year working in the MOD at a Primary Care Rehabilitation Facility (the equivalent to a GP practice on base) supporting Tri-Service Police from basic to significant injuries in the line of duty. 
 
In 2017 I progressed into sport, working full-time at Loughborough University leading the delivery of multiple elite sport teams (netball, athletics, triathlon and football). This led to working with England Netball, leading their Academy and supporting the senior squad for 5 years, including working at the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2023. I have led pitch side American Football Britball and rugby teams where I have gleaned most of my experience in pre-hospital care and trauma management. During this time, I attained my Masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine through the University of Nottingham. 
In 2020, during the pandemic, sport shut down worldwide, so I went into the First Contact Practitioner (FCP) role. I enjoy the analytical aspect of the role, and being able to extend my skillset, looking into a multi-system perspective similar to working with athletes as a sole clinician. Throughout my 4 years in Primary Care, I have been able to expand my skillset including; becoming a clinical lead to FCP Mental Health Occupational Therapists, ability to complete joint injections and receiving my Advance Clinical Practice (ACP) digital badge. 
 
I continue to work at the University of Nottingham Sports Injury Clinic, involving managing athlete injuries, return to play plans, supporting teams pitch side and providing teaching to students on placement, including their pre-hospital care skills. 

You have some impressive sports physio credentials - what drew you to working in Sports Medicine and elite sport? 

I have always strived to be exceptional at my goals in life and support athletes and patients to do the same, be it a gold medal or the capability to play with their grandchildren. Sport allowed me to be involved in a fast-paced work environment whereby I could be innovative, not trying to be 100% better at any one thing but 1% better at everything each day. I enjoy the multi-factorial nature e.g. working in Paralympic Sports, you not only work with great elite athletes but you are often challenged by managing a disability and additionally any medical issues. It is another problem-solving environment to encounter. 
 
I have always competed to a high level in sports myself so I understand the challenges and how the support of coaching and medical teams can make the difference to performance. At present I compete in Strongwoman, holding World, European and British titles in the tested leagues, U75kg category and competed for Great Britain at world stages in the untested leagues recently including the Arnold’s Ohio World Championships and this summer I will be competing at the European Official Strongman Games. 
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I have always strived to be exceptional at my goals in life and support athletes and patients to do the same, be it a gold medal or the capability to play with their grandchildren. 

Will you be having any involvement with Team GB ahead of the 2024 Olympics? 

Unfortunately, not this summer. However, I will be the Physiotherapist and supporting medic to the Northern Ireland Warriors Netball Team in their test series in Barbados in August, where they will be competing to earn their Netball World Cup place. 
 
I was fortunate last year to be part of Team England Commonwealth Youth Games 2023 in Trinidad and Tobago supporting the U19 England Netball athletes. I previously worked for LOCOG at the London 2012 Olympics with Judo and supported in the Athlete Village Medical Unit at the Paralympics. 
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...it is my belief that success and progression are achieved through innovative thinking, an inquisitive nature, perseverance and taking any opportunity that may arise. 

How does working in sports medicine compare to your other roles? 

There are many similarities to Primary Care meaning that you always look at an athlete with a multi-system approach. We regularly meet as an MDT with the Coach, Strength and Conditioning, Nutritionist and sometimes Psychologists to ensure we are addressing all factors of an individual and team’s performance. 
 
When working pitchside, you manage any trauma incidents that occur i.e. from a sprained ankle, a dislocated elbow or medical emergency having to be prepared for all eventualities factoring in the sporting discipline, any kit used, weather and the location. 

Your background is in physiotherapy, but your current role with PICS seems to involve lots of different Allied Health Professions, including Mental Health Occupational Therapists. Could you explain briefly how MHOTs work for anyone who might not be aware of the role? 

Mental Health Occupational Therapist First Contact Practitioners are highly skilled and experienced clinicians who can see patients first contact when they present to the GP surgery with a mental health concern. They can complete advanced risk assessments, including suicide and self-harm and can manage crisis. During their detailed assessments, the MHOT can determine the best management plan, this can include rehabilitation, talking therapies, discussing medication with the Doctors or Non-medical Prescribers (NMPs), or onward referrals where indicated. Should a patient be starting pharmacology management, the MHOT is able to provide support until the therapeutic dose has been reached. This falls in line with seeing the right person, in the right place, first time initiative. Aiming to manage mental health at the initial presentation and reduce complexity or chronicity with delayed intervention. 
 
I have the privilege to support these clinicians through their FCP Roadmap alongside showcasing their impact to patients. 

We hear you had a royal visit earlier in the year - how did that come about? 

One of our brilliant FCP Mental Health Occupational Therapists applied to the Royal College of Occupational Therapy, where HRH Princess Anne is a patron, to showcase an innovative project within Nottingham West PCN. In February 2024, we were able to present the Mental Health Occupational Therapy (MHOT) service to her and show her how effective it has been for PCNs and patients, to have mental health specialists at the beginning of the patient’s journey. 
 
The event launched the Primary Care group work with MHOTs and Mental Health - Health and Well-Being Coaches. Her Royal Highness and the guests were able to learn more about the positive impact of the new mental health groups and how they would; 
support the local population 
reduce GP workload 
reduce onward referrals to secondary services. 

What advice do you have for anyone who might be inspired by your achievements in sports or healthcare? 

I would always advise others to go out and seek opportunities and learn about other roles within their scope of practice. At the Training Hub, we have a wealth of experience and background to pursue support in how the role could be developed. 
 
Whether it be in a sporting environment or in Primary Care, it is my belief that success and progression are achieved through innovative thinking, an inquisitive nature, perseverance and taking any opportunity that may arise. 
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