Transforming the NHS, one allied healthcare professional at a time

Jessica Williams is a Senior Operating Department Practitioner (ODP) at Chelsea Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and a Horizon Fellow. Here she shares her journey so far on the Horizon Fellowship programme and how her project has developed.

When I graduated as an operating department practitioner (ODP) specialising in anaesthetics back in 2019, I had no idea just how interesting and diverse the role could be. So far it has taken me from operating theatres to labour wards, to the crazy motion sickness battle of blue-light ambulance transfers and more recently, to the intensive care unit (thank-you Covid!). The skills and opportunities are endless, except one small problem…no one has any idea what an ODP is and how diverse our skill set is.

Starting my Horizon Fellowship journey

Initially, joining the Horizon Fellowship was a way for me to implement a quality improvement project into my post-covid operating department. A department that, at the time, was exhausted and needed a break, so naturally I thought; what better way to bring the spark back than auditing my burnt-out colleagues?

While my efforts were appreciated, I began to realise what my department really needed was some recognition for the hard and wonderful work we did during Covid. You see, as a profession, ODPs make up a tiny percentage of the NHS, yet it is almost impossible to undertake any emergency service without us. We are holding your hand when you come for an operation and giving you words of encouragement as we welcome your new baby into the world.

The importance of ODPs

Routinely ODPs work as part of a duo with the anaesthetic doctor. Together we create an unshakable airway-managing, cannula-placing extravaganza.

One area in particular ODPs thrive, is during airway management in emergency situations. We routinely help the anaesthetic doctor to take over your breathing during elective operations, so when it is time to do it in an emergency, it is second nature for us. Our airway management and assisting skills are the key skill I have found that could really be useful across the hospital. Whether it’s helping an intensive are patient who is in a coma be transferred for a scan, or helping care for a critically unwell child, we can be there with our equipment and be a helping hand.

Developing my project

My project quickly became a lot less about gathering data on emergencies we attend and much more about gaining recognition of our role and utilising the skills we offer a modern-day NHS trust.

After some fantastic brain storming with the Fellows and course leaders, I decided to undertake several modes of data collection, with the aim to gain insight into how the ODP role could benefit the doctors, nurses and allied health care professionals who deal with all manner of emergency, every day. Once I began talking (shouting!) about the anaesthetic ODP and our capabilities it was astonishing how many departments simply did not know we existed, and if they did, had no idea the extent of our skill set.

Operating department practitioners are allied health care professionals whose work is imperative to the safe undertaking of surgery and general anaesthesia. However, I want to expand the role and create a better understanding of the clinical skills we have. Hospitals are no longer built on doctors and nurses alone, we work with varying specialities and healthcare professionals who should all be applauded for their efforts within the NHS. ODPs may be a small proportion of the wonderful multidisciplinary team it takes to provide great patient care, but we are mighty group you cannot live without. 

What is an ODP (

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