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Turning a blind eye? How do we ensure the health and social care sector recognises our newly Accredited Register for vision rehabilitation professionals?

As we announce our decision to accredit the register held by the Rehabilitation Workers Professional Network, their Chair, Simon Labbett, shares his thoughts on the importance of accreditation. 

Here’s a small thought experiment. I would like you to imagine that a close family member lives alone and has just lost their sight. They can no longer get to the shops safely, they’re scalding themselves when cooking their tea, and they’re socially isolated -- dialling out on their phone is largely a matter of guess work. Maybe they also have a hearing impairment. They are also probably feeling pretty low.   

What kind of safeguards would you want from the person coming to visit them professionally? Bear in mind that this professional is the person who will call at their door but be unrecognisable; walk into their home, sit down with them and ask them lots of questions. This person is likely to be the same person who will be going on to teach them how to get down their local streets, find a crossing point and then cross the busy road to the post office and the shop. They might also be supporting your loved one to set up accessible banking, read their private mail and teach them how to manage cooking on the hob. The job has “risk” written all over it. There are risks with technical aspects of practice (getting run over) and risk of malpractice (having access to a blind person’s property and possessions without their knowledge). 

This is the professional life of a Vision Rehabilitation Worker. You may not have heard of the role, but we sit alongside Social Workers and Occupational Therapists in adult social services. We are often on similar pay scales, do remarkably similar jobs, and have a clearly defined qualification route. 

Yet, unlike them, we are not registered by statute. It is only this year that we have gained any formal recognition for our professional register by gaining Accredited Register status with the Professional Standards Authority.

I am chair of the professional body for Vision Rehabilitation Workers, the Rehabilitation Workers Professional Network (RWPN). We are absolutely delighted to have gained this recognition: it has required us to strengthen our policies, reflect upon our responsibilities to our clients and how we communicate with our membership. We are all the better for having gone through the process. On the one hand, applying for accreditation was both necessary and an obvious step. 

But for RWPN it comes with a huge risk. The register of Vision Rehabilitation Workers sits within the social care environment in a much clearer way than many of the Authority’s other Accredited Registers. In social care you are either one of a small handful of statutory registered professions or you are not – and most are not. The assured voluntary register does not appear to be on the horizon of managers or workforce planners. It really needs to be.

We are putting a lot of store by accreditation. We are hoping that registration will bring a recognition of the risks involved in our work – risks that very few local authority managers fully grasp. We are hoping that accreditation will mean that our registrants’ technical supervision needs are understood and met. We are hoping that the requirement for specialist CPD is recognised.    

The risk for us is that employers ignore whatever is non-statutory. The risk of us is that our registrants see no ultimate compunction to stay on the register (notwithstanding the obvious need to be on one). Reading the Professional Standards Authority blog by Janet Monkman (from the Academy of Healthcare Science) last February, I could see her voicing similar concerns – this time within the NHS (where some of our registrants also work).

We welcome the oversight that accreditation brings on our shoulders – it’s high time! But will this be balanced by recognition by employers and within social care structures? This feels particularly needed in the devolved nations where regulation of the generic social care workforce is on the table. 

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Please note the views expressed in these blogs are those of the individual bloggers and do not necessarily reflect those of the Professional Standards Authority.