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RehabilitationDec 6, 2023

Meet physiotherapist Sandy Walsh, the National Rehabilitation Centre's first director of operations


In an exclusive Q&A interview with PhysioUpdate's editor Ian A McMillan, Sandy Walsh discusses her career highlights – which include completing a travelling scholarship to the USA and helping to ensure the new National Rehabilitation Centre gets off to a flying start.

What drew you into physiotherapy and when/ where did you graduate? 

At school, I was very interested in human anatomy and physiology and enjoyed learning about how the body worked. I had some work experience in a physio practice which further sparked my interest and led me to study Physiotherapy at the University of Nottingham. I graduated in 2008.

Tell us about your career thus far. Any highlights?

Throughout my career I have been fortunate enough to work in a variety of settings with some excellent clinicians who have helped to shape my practice over the years. I completed my junior and senior rotations in a large acute hospital trust, before specialising in musculoskeletal  physio. I spent some time working privately as well as for the NHS.

In 2015, I took a step out of traditional physiotherapy to work as a major trauma co-ordinator for the East Midlands Major Trauma Centre, which was a really interesting role. I worked alongside the medical and nursing teams, attending trauma calls and co-ordinating major trauma patient pathways. I was totally out of my comfort zone but learned so much. From there, I went on to develop a rehab specific trauma co-ordinator role and also became regional rehabilitation director for the major trauma network.

This experience eventually led me to one of my main highlights in my career to date – being asked to work on the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) programme. As part of this role, I’ve ended up doing things I never dreamed I’d do – such as writing business cases for HM Treasury review and exploring international best practice to bring back to England. The NRC is such a great opportunity to shape our rehabilitation services for the future, and I’m privileged to be a part of it.

Photo Credit: NRC
Making the NRC a 'great place to work' and a return to netball are two of Sandy's goals

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We hear you spent time in the USA. Tell us more.

I was awarded the Nottinghamshire Roosevelt Memorial Travelling Scholarship in 2013 for my project of ‘rehabilitation following major trauma and burns’. This gave me the opportunity to travel in the USA, visiting various trauma and rehabilitation centres across nine states.

It was such an incredible opportunity not only to explore how rehabilitation is delivered, but also for my own professional development. It really reignited my passion for the NHS when faced with the stark reality of different healthcare systems and the amazing care we deliver in increasingly difficult environments.

I want the NRC to be a world-leading rehabilitation centre, as well setting new standards for rehabilitation services across England and we are working hard to realise that ambition

What does your current role as NRC director of operations entail?

I will be responsible for the operational running of the NRC when it opens – think budgets, workforce, patient pathways and how the building will run to name a few! In preparation for opening the new centre, we are planning all the details from clinical pathways and how the service will run on a daily basis, through to optimum building design and which equipment to procure.

In addition, the NRC is a collaboration of clinical and academic excellence, and we are establishing how our clinical teams will work closely with our academic partners – the University of Nottingham and Loughborough University – to bring together clinical practice and research and innovation.

I also currently oversee the operational running of our existing rehab unit which will transition to the new centre. It is a fantastic team and I love learning from them and inputting their ideas into the new centre. I want the NRC to be a world-leading rehabilitation centre, as well setting new standards for rehabilitation services across England and we are working hard to realise that ambition.

Tell us something you’d like to achieve professionally by the end of 2024

 I’m really passionate about harnessing the clinical expertise we have in the NHS, especially as recruitment and retention is vital for the NHS right now.

I want to continue to showcase to the public and NHS staff the amazing opportunity the NRC brings, not only to work in an amazing purpose-built facility in an environment specifically conducive to recovery and rehabilitation, but which also provides career progression opportunities at all levels of professional practice and research and innovation opportunities for all our staff.

Our vision is that the NRC to be a great place to work, where staff feel valued and can achieve their best for themselves, their patients, and for the rehabilitation field as a whole.

Looking ahead, what does the NHS need to do to thrive and how can physios influence things?

Things often feel very difficult in the NHS at the moment, as the demand on all services, including physiotherapy, is huge. Physios have a huge role to play across the NHS, and our skills are so diverse and transferable. I would love to see more therapists given the ability and freedom to support the rehabilitation of patients in innovative ways across the NHS, including accessing rehabilitation technologies alongside clinical expertise.

Our profession can be hugely influential in showcasing the systemwide impact that rehabilitation can have, from releasing acute hospital bed capacity, to improving patient outcomes and reducing the burden on health and social care, particularly in the long term.

At the NRC, we are focusing on the ability to give patients access to early, intensive rehabilitation to transform patient outcomes, as well as to help flow through the entire healthcare system in our region and prevent patients re-entering the health system.

On a personal note, what are your goals or resolutions for the new year?

The last few years have been a bit of a whirlwind for me with work demands alongside having two small boys.

Now they have both started school, I would love to focus on my hobbies again and return to playing netball. I have played since primary school but unfortunately just couldn’t fit it around busy work and family life over the last few years. I really miss the team so will try to make it back – if I still make the cut!

To discover more about recent developments at the NRC in an earlier PhysioUpdate article, click

To access a PhysioUpdate article on the NRC's Rehabilitation Assistant Practitioner Apprenticeship course, click

Author: Edited by Ian A McMillan
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