The VRA Award Winners share their top tips

The VRA Awards are taking place in November 2020 

entries are CLOSED AND finalists WILL BE ANNOUNCED SoON!


Get your entries in and help us to celebrate the exciting things happening in VR!

Sadly we had to push back the awards earlier this year due to the situation with Covid-19, but they are back and better than ever. We thought this was a great time to catch up with some of last year’s winners, hear more about their projects and ask them to share their tips for making a great entry!

Photograph of Dr Devdeep AhujaVRA AWARD WINNER 2019 –

Dr Devdeep Ahuja

It was nearly this time last year that I won the VRA Award for Innovation, Research and Education for my work with the Council for Work and Health on behalf of RTW Plus Ltd. to develop the Talking Work Guide and Checklist.

This is a free resource aimed at GPs having work conversation with patients. GPs are not always confident in discussing workplace adaptations, amended duties or return-to-work options (Fylan et al. 2011) and Fit note data suggests that the ‘maybe fit for work’ option was used only in 6.5% cases. Therefore, the joint Work and Health Unit sought to develop a resource to improve GPs’ ability to have effective work conversations and support work modifications. The Guide also includes a ‘Talking Work Checklist’ to facilitate meaningful work-related conversations with patients and promote workplace adjustments, and graduated return to work, to reduce avoidable sickness absence. It also gives examples of useful phrases to consider and signposts patients and employers to other useful resources (such as the Access to Work Scheme).

The importance of involving proven methods, which are both inclusive and participatory, was considered essential for developing a tool that would be acceptable to varied stakeholder groups. The Talking Work Guide and Checklist was therefore developed using a rigorous four-stage research and consultation process: –

  • Data collection phase with diverse data
    • a call for evidence from stakeholder groups
    • a rapid evidence assessment and synthesis of current research on workplace adjustments
    • a document review of current industry guides
  • Development of a prototype guide and consultation with a range of industry experts [32 representatives from e.g. WHU, RCOT, SOM, ARMA, IOSH, VRA, Macmillan]. the consultation involved discussion, feedback, and the development of model case studies.
  • The final version of the guidance was based on a collation and appraisal of the discussions and feedback on the prototype. A desktop resource for use in routine clinical practice, the ‘Talking Work Checklist’, was developed.
  • Evaluation of guidance: the guidance was published on the Council for Work and Health (CWH) website and underwent evaluation through using a survey. The project was supervised by a steering group from CWH.

The evaluation was very positive: 93% viewing it as useful; 77% finding it easy to navigate; 72% considering it user friendly; and 98% would recommend the guidance to their patients.

The guide was further revised using feedback from open questions in the survey and the final version was published on the CWH website. The guide can be accessed here.

The VRA Award for Innovation, Research and Education has provided the recognition of the importance of this work, considering that most GPs have not received formal training or guidance in effectively using fit notes, nor has there been guidance around having conversations with patients about workplace modifications. The resource has been highlighted at multiple conferences throughout the year by various industry bodies and remains one of the most visited resources on the Council for Health and Work’s website.

It has been an honour to be able to add the award to my slides and promotional materials – ‘award-winning’ always sounds good! I would strongly recommend anyone out there in the VR world to share your work with others and put yourselves up for an award if you have something you are particularly proud of.

Photograph of Heather WatsonVRA AWARD WINNER 2019 –

Heather Watson

Heather won the Vocational Rehabilitation Practitioner Award in 2019. She is a Chartered Physiotherapist who, for many years, has specialised in Occupational Health and Rehabilitation. She gained post-graduate qualifications in Occupational Health Physiotherapy and Workplace Ergonomics, after working as a volunteer at Rover Group and then moving onto BAE Systems Marine to deliver their onsite fast track OH Physio service. Since then, her career has spanned the private, industry and NHS sectors, including developing and leading an award-winning NHS Occupational Health MSK Fitness for Work Service.

In 2015, Heather founded Designed2Move Ltd, a specialist functional restoration service for seriously injured clients who need functional rehabilitation to restore them to as close to their pre-injury level of full function as possible. The service was described as unique in its sector (which was supported in the testimonials) with a strong focus on contemporary rehabilitation models using focused goal setting and evidence-based rehabilitation approaches to provide psychologically informed physical interventions. This service is uniquely tailored to the needs of the individual client. Progress is planned and measured by setting baseline goals, with specific patient-related outcomes, and relevant functional physical tests, working collaboratively with the client to achieve measurable outcomes.

Heather’s nomination for the VRA Award included a case study to illustrate how she tailored her approach and plans to the individual, and how she worked collaboratively with her clients. This was well supported with examples of measurable outcomes and testimonials from customers.

Another key aspect of Heather’s practice that enhanced her nomination for the Vocational Rehabilitation Practitioner Award for 2019 was her influential work in promoting occupational and vocational rehabilitation and supporting other practitioners to develop their knowledge and skills. She has taught, mentored, and presented on the importance of work activity in patients’ lives and therefore its importance as an integral part of rehabilitation, with a key focus on functional rehabilitation, seeing this through until as near full function as possible. She has been the lead tutor on the Occupational Rehabilitation & Return to Work Course, part of the Competency Framework for ACPOHE (Association of Chartered Physiotherapist in occupational Health & Ergonomics) since 2008 and, in 2019 Heather began leading the development of the Designed2Move Academy so that more physiotherapists can be trained in vocational rehabilitation.

Heather has been a speaker at numerous conferences, promoting work-focused healthcare to a variety of audiences, including the European Region of World Confederation of Physical Therapy in 2016 and again the World Confederation of Physical Therapy in 2019. She has also won awards for her vocationally focused Physiotherapy services, such as the 2015 Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Service Excellence Award, the 2015 NHS England Innovation Award for Rehabilitation. In 2018 and 2019 Designed2Move was also a finalist in the CMSUK Therapeutic Service Provider of the Year Awards.

When asked to reflect on achieving the VRA Practitioner Award for 2019, Heather said that she had been particularly honoured to receive it as she is passionate about occupational and vocational rehabilitation. She was delighted that her own practice and her drive to improve practice across the industry had been recognised and hoped it would encourage others to share their achievements and apply in the future. Of course, the one-year free membership wasn’t bad either!

VRA AWARD WINNERS 2019 – Working To Wellbeing Team

We were delighted, when, in 2019, our amazing team at Working To Wellbeing was awarded the Vocational Rehabilitation Team Award.   When asked about the award, a year later, I am still absolutely thrilled that my team won this Award for 2019,  I am very proud of the work we do and the support that we provide for our clients.  The team is amazing and deserved to win this accolade. It is a testament to their hard work, enthusiasm and passion for their profession.

Since 2012, The W2W team has comprised of health coaches who have a range of clinical backgrounds.  They are occupational therapists, physiotherapists, cognitive behavioural therapists, psychologists, nutritional therapists, and career counsellors along with a highly supportive and sensitive administrative team. This multidisciplinary team uses an interdisciplinary model of working, including evidence-based treatment approaches from both physical and psychological research.

We work with individuals and relevant stakeholders, joining the dots to improve an individual’s health and wellbeing and functioning and support them to remain in or return to work.

Photograph of the Working To Wellbeing team

We have significant experience working in partnership with large and small organisations, designing and delivering effective clinically-led vocational rehabilitation programmes using the bio-psycho-social approach. Our aim is to provide vocationally based, recovery and self-management support for people experiencing health issues such as cancer, pain, fatigue, neurological conditions, and mental ill-health. We also provide training to HR and line managers to improve return to work processes and to clinicians, where work needs to be assessed as a clinical outcome.

W2W’s team have always delivered a unique combination of health coaching and behaviour change theory that is evidence-based.  At W2W we consult with our team members on service delivery and implementation, which fosters positive team working at both a corporate and clinical level.  The W2W team is long-standing with good staff retention figures and there is a strong support process within the team, including peer supervision.  We have effective quality assurance processes and provide support to facilitate cross-discipline learning.  Technology is also used effectively to foster close working relationships between team members.

In our application, we provided examples of strong clinical and functional outcomes and high levels of patient satisfaction. A concise case study highlighted the failings of a silo approach in healthcare and helped make the case for an interdisciplinary team approach. Testimonials from clients and customers were also used to support the team’s claims around the benefits of the biopsychosocial approach, their promotion of self-management, their uniqueness, their attention to ensuring a sustainable return to work, and to the cost-effectiveness of W2W’s services.

I would strongly recommend that you put in a submission for this VRA award.  It is a proud moment for any business leader to know that they have an excellent team.  It’s even better when that team get recognition for their work on a national platform through organisations such as the VRA.   W2W has won other awards but I am especially pleased to win the VRA award as the work that the VRA does is close to my heart.


Making Your Entry

The new timeline is:

  • Submission deadline – 5pm, Friday 2nd October 2020
  • Awards ceremony – 11-1pm, 6th November – on zoom!

All shortlisted nominees will be able to make a short pre-recorded presentation about their entry.

We are using the same form as shared earlier in the year so if you have already submitted your nomination it will stand unless you wish to update it.  We’ll get in touch with everyone who has already made a submission to give you the opportunity to do so.  
The awards enable us to give much-deserved recognition for all the valuable work that our members do to support others. As well as recognising excellence, we believe that these awards encourage practitioners to strive to be the best they can, to provide the best services possible for people facing obstacles to participating in work or other meaningful occupation. So please do get your nominations in!

  • VR Practitioner
  • VR Initiative, Research or Education (project)
  • VR Student
  • VR Team

The vocational rehabilitation awards are a great opportunity to recognise and share the good practice that goes on in our industry.

Please download your nomination form and guidance here.