How to become an occupational therapist in the UK

2 December 2021  •  Working Abroad
How to become an occupational therapist in the UK

Occupational therapy is a rewarding and varied profession offering extensive career opportunities across a range of different healthcare disciplines. With a staffing shortage throughout the NHS, occupational therapy jobs in the UK are plentiful, with a number of opportunities for career progression. Here we look at what occupational therapists do and how to become an occupational therapist UK-based.

What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists in the UK work in both physical and mental health settings to provide a range of support to people whose health issues might prevent them from carrying out certain activities. These might be daily activities such as feeding and clothing themselves, shopping and cleaning, or perhaps hobbies and interests that are important to them.

It's the role of the occupational therapist to assess the difficulties an individual is encountering, and then to work with them to find realistic solutions. They help people to identify what's important to them, what key tasks they need to take care of, and then set meaningful goals to help people chart their progress. By using a variety of means, they help their patients to improve and maintain their independent living skills. This might mean helping with different approaches to tasks, providing specialist equipment, or making modifications to the patient's residence.

Who do occupational therapists work with?

Occupational therapists will work with a range of client groups in different clinical settings. These include;

  • People with physical disabilities
  • People recovering from serious accidents and major surgery
  • Elderly and frail people
  • Babies and children
  • People with learning disabilities
  • People with a mental illness

In some instances, such as in community mental health teams, occupational therapists may fill a more generic role alongside nurses, social workers, and other health and care professionals.

How to become an occupational therapist UK based

To practice as an occupational therapist in the UK, you need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This is the regulatory body for a range of health and care professions in the UK. The HCPC legally protects 'Occupational Therapist' as a job title, so it can only be used by professionals who are currently on their register.

In order to be registered, applicants are required to meet a range of HCPC criteria. As well as qualifications, they are also required to meet the Continuing Professional Development criteria and have professional indemnity insurance in place. This insurance is part of the membership package received from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT), who also produce a comprehensive guide to working in the UK as an overseas candidate.

To register with the HCPC, you need to complete approved training in occupational therapy. This training is degree level and compulsory for anyone looking to practice as an occupational therapist in the UK. Alternatively, it's also possible to complete an on-the-job degree apprenticeship in occupational therapy. The training process in the UK is exacting, reflecting the high standards that are expected of people within the profession.

Registering with the HCPC as an overseas trained occupational therapist

The HCPC has a separate application route for overseas applicants. If you have completed formal occupational therapy training outside of the UK, such as occupational therapy degrees and post-graduate degrees offered in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, then you may be qualified to apply.

Any international applications are required to meet a range of strict criteria. These are related to:

  • Qualifications and training
  • Professional experience and skills
  • Health
  • Character

Every application will be considered individually and checked against specific criteria. The application process usually takes between 4-6 weeks, or during busier periods it may even take a number of months. If you're hoping to take up a UK occupational therapy job, it's important to apply in good time.

As part of the application process, you will be required to provide references. This will include two clinical references, a health reference, and a character reference. The HCPC will require details of the course of study that you completed. This will usually be provided by the university or college where you completed your training and will include a detailed breakdown of the course, its component units, and how you were assessed.

How much does it cost to apply?

Currently, the cost to apply for registration through the international route is £400. This fee is separate from the fee you will have to pay should your application be successful. The HCPC registration fee is currently £196.24 for two years. These figures are liable to change so it's important to check with the HCPC website to find the current rate at your time of application. This amount can usually be claimed as a tax expense.

What about visas?

To take up an occupational therapy job in the UK, you will need to have a Health and Care worker visa. As there are staffing shortages in the NHS, these will, in most cases, be approved as long as you meet the professional criteria. This includes having an appropriate qualification, meeting a certain income threshold, holding a certificate of sponsorship, and having a confirmed job offer. You will also need to show that you can communicate effectively in English at a standard required to properly carry out your job. The UK government provides a guide to the Health and Care Worker Visa system on their website.

What are the occupational therapy job prospects like in the UK?

The job prospects, for both short and long-term contracts, are very good. Applicants can expect to have good options when it comes to specialisms and locations. With the UK leaving the European Union, the number of candidates from EU countries has declined, creating even higher demand. As a result, this is a good time for any qualified person from overseas to secure a UK occupational therapy job.

Why is it important to register with an agency?

If you're looking to take up a UK occupational therapy job, registering with an agency can give you a real advantage. Agencies will be able to help you with your application, offer guidance with visas, and can give you access to opportunities before they're widely advertised.

At Globe Locums, we can increase your chances of success, guiding you through the bureaucracy and ensuring that your dreams of working as an occupational therapist in the UK are realised. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

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