Behind the scenes: An ongoing series of glimpses into everyday life at The Clavadel

Profile of Helen Collier, Physiotherapy Clinical Lead

In the second in our series of ‘behind the scenes’ interviews, we spoke to Helen Collier – clinical lead of our physiotherapy department. Helen − who has been with us from day one − has played an integral role in the success story of The Clavadel from inception to its current position at the forefront of post-operative rehabilitation and convalescent care.
Who better, then, to talk us through the daily challenges and rewards of a typical day in our physiotherapy centre?…

You have now been with the Geoghegan Group for almost 20 years, perhaps you could begin by telling us how you came to be where you are today…

Well…where do I start? I graduated from Middlesex Hospital School of Physiotherapy in 1991 and first started work with the Geoghegan Group in 2001, having already worked in both the UK and Australia.

And what brought you to The Clavadel?

I am proud to say I have led the physiotherapy team here since we first opened in 2014, having previously worked at our sister facility, The Old Rectory in Ewhurst.
My experience in the orthopaedic and neurological fields have developed an ongoing passion and enthusiasm for my work in the caring professions, and it was this that made me particularly keen to further develop my skill-set and extend my clinical capabilities.

Ah… tell us more…

It was during my time at The Old Rectory that I recall some interesting discussions with Charles Geoghegan – a director of the Geoghegan Group and subsequent founder of The Clavadel − about the role of physiotherapy in the rehabilitation process.
I had heard of Mr Geoghegan’s desire to establish a highly specialised facility, which immediately piqued my interest – as I’m sure you can imagine.
He had already witnessed the value of physiotherapy to orthopaedic patients at first hand and had some advanced plans he was eager to explore. As a result, an initial unit was created on site.

That must have been an exciting time…

It certainly was! It was gratifying to see Mr Geoghegan’s ideas begin to take shape, and to be part of the journey that would eventually lead to this amazing facility you see today.
The Clavadel has now been open for six years and we continue to go from strength to strength, so I hope I shall be able to contribute to its continued success for many years to come.

What do you think is the magic ingredient that makes The Clavadel so special?

It’s a combination of so many things, really – as I’m sure our guests will confirm – but let me concentrate on the physiotherapy side of things, if I may.
We have a dedicated physiotherapy suite, staffed by an amazing group of people. Currently, there are 17 physiotherapists and two physio assistants.
Our physios are specialists in treating early post-operative rehab – a very particular skill set, within which each will possess individual areas of expertise that enable us to provide a comprehensive treatment package.

Sounds like you have all you need at your disposal to get people back on the road to recovery, then…

Yes; the department is fortunate to be equipped with the latest, cutting-edge facilities.
Having studied at the Middlesex School – where hydrotherapy is a speciality – I am particularly grateful for our state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool. It is one of only a select few of this standard and specification in the country and is invaluable in the recovery process. The patients love it!

Maybe you could tell us a little about your typical day?

Certainly. After setting up the department and the pool, it is time for the morning handover with Matron and the overnight care staff, at which time I will be updated on patient progress and alerted to any issues for my attention. I can then begin formulating treatment plans for the day ahead.                                                            There is usually a regular flow of new arrivals – all of whom will need assessment and are often eager to get therapy sessions underway. It’s an important part of my role to reassure and support patients at all stages of the rehab process, including updating the care team to an individual’s changing needs. For instance, ensuring the patient has the correct walking aid or advising on the need for leg elevation and ice packs.                                    Treatments commence at 9.30am. Our daily team of six duty physios each have their own list of patients and I liaise with the lead hydro-therapist daily to discuss the best way to integrate hydro- and land-based physiotherapy to best effect.                                                                                                                                            As the day progresses, I offer ongoing support to all my staff while continuing to see patients who might well have come to us directly following surgery. They could be tired and in various states of discomfort and may be seeking some reassurance that we have a plan to manage their pain and put them back in control of their lives. I am always happy to allay any fears they may have.

How, exactly, does physiotherapy help control that pain?

There are many approaches and combinations of technique we can employ to help with pain management: ice treatment may be used to reduce swelling; soft tissue massage can help to manage post-operative muscle tightness; and, as I have already mentioned, hydrotherapy is hugely beneficial.
However, we will also assist by encouraging correct walking patterns to avoid exacerbating existing problems, and balance work can help prevent the risk of falls. We also have excellent gym facilities on site that can be utilised, if appropriate.
After initial assessment, sessions are normally around 30 minutes long, but we are lucky to have the capacity to extend that time where necessary, so we can spend more time with the patient. And between the daily hydro- and physiotherapy sessions, the therapist will discuss and advise on ways to further prevent strain on the body – whether that is by way of bed rest, additional in-room exercises, or a simple walk around the building.

It must be reassuring for patients to realise what is possible, with all the facilities at hand…

Yes, and it is personally rewarding to see what can be achieved in a typical seven-day stay and to then receive such positive feedback from patients on how we have improved their mobility and boosted their confidence.
As part of my role, I also attend a weekly meeting with our matron when we can ensure any training needs are being met and we are all up-to date with current best practice. Then, once a month, team members take it in turn to lead a training session where we all have the opportunity to expand our knowledge base by sharing experience – perhaps by reviewing how we managed a particularly complex case, or discussing the details of an article by a leading orthopaedic surgeon.

One last thing before you go… with such a busy schedule, how do you find time to relax?

I love my work. I am also a qualified Body Control Pilates instructor, so you will often find me taking classes on my days off. But if I am not taking a ‘busman’s holiday’, I enjoy playing football or spending time with my children – the perfect way to unwind.

It has been a fascinating insight, Helen – thank-you for sparing us some of your valuable time.