I work as a physiotherapist in a community-based team for adults with learning disabilities. Part of my role involves assessing the postural management needs of service users with complex disability alongside the local wheelchair and special seating services. I first heard about PMG whilst I was on the Oxford 24-hour Postural Management in Complex Disability post-graduate certificate course in 2015/16. I heard many good things about the annual conference, so I was very excited to be a bursar and get to see for myself. I was most certainly not disappointed!
Over the two days I was met with a wealth of expertise delivering seminars and presentations; an exhibition room packed with all the latest equipment on the market; and a chance to mingle with many professionals who shared my enthusiasm in the field of postural management and mobility. It was the first time that I had attended a conference such as this – it definitely was a lot more than gathering free pens and brochures! At the PMG conference I felt able to connect within a network of shared experiences, and build on my new skills and knowledge in postural management.
At the opening plenary session, Ade Adepitan, patron of Go Kids Go and international GB wheelchair basketball player, set the scene for what was to come. His story of overcoming adversity, and the confidence he achieved through sport, was very inspiring. He noted the therapists that had been involved in his journey, and also how the right wheelchair gave him the freedom to become who he is today. This was a helpful reminder to us all why we do what we do.
There were eight parallel sessions to choose from during the first day. Whilst I am not directly working in wheelchair services, I am interested in global delivery of services for disability, therefore I attended a session titled What can developments in the WHO Wheelchair Service Training Packages and the International Society of Wheelchair Professionals bring to the UK?. The session talked about a step-by-step guide training package that aims to develop the minimum skills and knowledge required by personnel involved in wheelchair service delivery. It reported that such training has resulted in many under-resourced regions of the world setting up a wheelchair service where a consistent approach to that service can be provided. It was very interesting to consider this model and whether, if successful, it could potentially be applied to other services.
Personal health budgets (PHBs) are being introduced to my service and I still had a lot of questions as to what this means for service users. I took the opportunity to attend the session titled Personalising wheelchair services – your chance to influence the process delivered by Stephen Pruner, Personal Health Budgets Lead, NHS England. He explained that the concept of a PHB is to give people a greater choice and control over how money on their care or equipment is spent; ideally in a way that better suits them. The session opened up many discussions amongst the delegates about how this would work within a stretched wheelchair service and, whilst many questions still remained unanswered, I came away with some reassurance that I was not alone in my uncertainty!
One of the sessions which I found particularly useful and fitting to my role was titled Making life better: postural management and surgery for the child and adult with complex disability by Mr Martin Gough and Wendy Murphy. It provided a very useful and interesting overview of the types of clinical reasoning required within the field of postural management, and for us to consider if we are truly helping a person with our recommendations. It reminded me to always consider health and function rather than disability or the ‘management’ of a person, and just how difficult this balance can sometimes be.
Amidst all there was to see and do, I nearly missed the posters! Because, interestingly, it was one of the posters that went on to have the most impact on my actions following the conference.
Both on my postural management course and within my clinical role, I am used to working with a relatively reasonable availability of resources, and with the expectation that people are provided at least basic wheelchairs by the National Health Service. The poster by Martin Seabrook, titled Wheels for the World – this is Ghana, highlighted the impact that disability still has in the developing world, where the absence of equipment and specialist skills means that many people are forgotten and unable to even imagine getting around their environment. The therapists and engineers who visited Ghana had put their skills to great use in challenging circumstances. With my growing confidence in the field of posture and mobility and, after a conversation with fellow delegates who presented the poster, in October 2016 I went out with a team from Wheels for the World to distribute wheelchairs in a remote part of Uganda. Photo above is of the outdoor clinic set up by the Wheels of the World team where Suné worked in Uganda.
Following my attendance at PMG conference 2016 and, as my knowledge and skills continue to develop, I feel better equipped to work alongside the wheelchair and special seating teams. I also have a better awareness of the equipment options available - particularly when things are not straightforward. I am very grateful to all involved at PMG for the great opportunity I had – I hope to be back again soon.