Humans of Clevedon – Clare Sheffield

Meet Clare, an experienced physiotherapist who spends half her working week in an NHS outpatients’ clinic specialising in muscle and joint pain and the other half offering home-based personalised physiotherapy assessments and rehabilitation services here in Clevedon. Clare along with Luke and Bertie, their adorable pooch, is one of my neighbours, and in conversation recently, when she was telling me about her new business, I offered to feature her in my Humans of Clevedon series because I was so impressed with what she was offering and know that it will make a difference in our community.

Clare loves her job because she considers it to be one of the only medical careers that get to take every aspect of a patient’s journey into consideration and provide a truly holistic service. She sees it as a two-way partnership where you can empower patients to take control of their own recovery. I’m sure aside from the technical skills, motivating and engaging people is just as important and when you meet and talk to Clare you just know that this is one of her strengths. It’s very easy to make a meaningful connection with her because she has such a warm, friendly empathetic nature.

Clare is also a good listener which is, of course, critical.  She sees every patient as unique and rejects the ‘one-treatment-fits-all’ approach. Listening to a client’s story, not just the words but, more importantly, trying to understand the complete message and how an injury or health concern is impacting on all aspects of their health is essential in designing a unique treatment plan.

Clare explained that she will be analysing, paraphrasing, reinterpreting and repeating back what she has understood to ensure a complete understanding of her client’s unique needs. There will be a constant exchange of opinions in order to avoid misunderstandings and to build a trust relationship between herself and her client. Once they have established a shared understanding then Clare and her client will develop a shared solution.

It was really interesting hearing about Clare’s approach to her work and we then turned to the question of why she and Luke had chosen to settle in Clevedon. I was particularly interested in her response because she moved around a lot as a child and is a seasoned traveller.

Clare was born in East Anglia and because of her father’s work as a civil engineer, her childhood was split between Wales, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong. Eventually, the family settled in the Peterborough area where she sat her public exams.  After graduating in physiotherapy from the University of East Anglia, Claire got a job in France and spent six months living and working in the Alps.  The following year, she relocated to Austria for a year of seasonal work which is where she met her partner Luke.

In between her studies and seasonal work, Clare took every opportunity found to travel – backpacking around South East Asia; interrailing around Europe; wild camping in Scandinavia; and hiking in the Atlas mountains in North Africa. Her biggest adventure was a two month trip to South America where she spent time with a tribe in the Ecuador jungle, before travelling east through the continent to finish in Rio.

So why Clevedon? Clare explained that when she and Luke decided to settle back in the UK in 2017, neither of them had any connections or commitments. So, looking at a  map of the UK, she quite simply closed her eyes, and her finger landed on Clevedon. Neither she nor Luke knew the South West, but after visiting Clevedon, decided very quickly that it was where they wanted to settle. It had everything they loved most – the sea, sunsets and beautiful countryside.

Clare secured a post as a junior physiotherapist for the local NHS Community Trust (the former North Somerset Community Partnership) which she loved and two years after moving here, she and Luke bought their flat on Copse Road. They love the flat and have a beautiful snippet of a sea view from the bedroom window where they can watch the sunset and the tides. What could be nicer?

Given that she’d moved around so much, I wondered did Clare now feel settled in Clevedon? She said that looking back it felt like she was always chasing something, which is why she could never stay in one place for long – UNTIL she found Clevedon, which has given her the feeling of ‘home’ that she has never found elsewhere.

“Clevedon’s got just the right balance of busy-town vs country-life, it’s got a friendly atmosphere, character and vibrant community life. I’ve lived and travelled to so many places and can honestly say that there’s nowhere that provides this balance quite like Clevedon. I now want to start giving back to the community that has totally changed my life and my mindset.”

The whole idea of feeling settled and viewing Clevedon as ‘home’ really resonated with me as did Clare’s motivation in wanting to give back to the community. I share her sense of gratitude.

I asked Clare about the impact of the pandemic on her work and she described it as having ‘completely changed my world’. I wasn’t surprised to hear this because I knew that many areas of non-COVID care had been forced to shut down or significantly reduce in the first phase of the pandemic in order to free up enough capacity to deal with the initial peak, but I didn’t know what that ‘looked like’ for an individual like Clare. Well, I do now, and I have to say the level of resilience and commitment required for Clare’s professional COVID journey and her ability to adapt to the most adverse of conditions is quite remarkable. The bottom line is that during the pandemic Clare experienced six changes of job.

Initially, in 2020, Clare was redeployed from Community Rehab to work directly on a COVID ward based in Northampton General Hospital. She was there for five months and joked about learning how to communicate with just her eyebrows, the only part PPE didn’t cover! I was just glad to hear that this protection had been available to her because it was not there for everyone in the healthcare system.

Clare was then redeployed around the A+E and Rapid Assessment Units in the hospital. When she was finally able to get back to Clevedon after the first wave of the pandemic, she got a static job in Bristol in an outpatient physio clinic which was mainly treating patients in chronic pain or with acute injuries.

However, within three months she was redeployed again – to work in the North Somerset Discharge to Assess team – supporting hospital discharges and delivering rapid rehabilitation for patients at home.

And it didn’t end there! No! Last Winter Clare was redeployed AGAIN into the ‘virtual’ COVID ward which is a digital well-being support network and telephone service for vulnerable adults who test positive.

Happily, for the last four months, Clare has been back in her normal outpatient clinic role in Bristol which she absolutely adores, treating acute and chronic injuries, pain management and running exercise classes.  She never considered NOT working in the NHS until this year…

Clare explained that Brexit, years of underfunding and workforce planning, our ageing population, and the pandemic, have left the NHS with the worst staffing crisis of all time. The King’s Fund report into the NHS workforce updated in October 2020 revealed a shortage of 84,000 FTE staff in NHS hospitals, mental health services and community providers. And worryingly, there is no national plan to address this crisis. There has been no national NHS workforce strategy since 2003. Emergency and acute care take priority, which means that routine care in the community is becoming harder to access and staff are being pushed into acute care roles.

The most recent five-year plan from our local health service actually doesn’t cover routine community rehabilitation at all, instead, it’s focusing on urgent rehab to keep people out of hospitals and prepare them for early discharge. Anyone that doesn’t fit into the emergency rehab category will struggle to find a physiotherapist or occupational therapy service that will visit them at home and has a waiting list of less than two years. This means that people who have poor mobility and can’t get to outpatient clinics independently will not have access to physio.

And therein lies the reason that Clare has decided to launch her business: Her aim is to target individuals that have lost confidence and become isolated at home, unable to access physiotherapy clinics or community support groups. She wants to help people build confidence through balance, strength and coordination exercises, thereby enabling them to re-engage with their community.

The number of people requiring physiotherapy post-COVID has, of course, increased exponentially which makes Clare’s new venture even more attractive, knowing appointments for cases not considered urgent will of course be very difficult to secure. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), as of June 6, 2021, an estimated 970,000 people in the UK were experiencing symptoms of long COVID. The physiotherapist’s role along with colleagues from the other allied health professions such as occupational therapists and dietitians is vital in supporting people’s rehabilitation back to independent living.

The annual NHS Staff Survey results, which were published in March this year, highlight concerns over the well-being of the NHS workforce and the impact the pandemic has had on staff.

The survey found that:

44% of staff had reported feeling unwell due to work-related stress in the last 12 months – a 3.7% increase from last year

6% of frontline staff reported stress compared to 41.7% in 2019 – an increase of 4.9%

The scale of the task is colossal, the data above is disturbing but Clare’s love of her job and her excitement at the possibility of supporting clients in their homes was tangible.  She admitted that the role of physio can be challenging  – the vast majority of patients that a physio treats are in physical pain which impacts on all aspects of their health and it’s easy to absorb this pain and become emotionally drained yourself. But helping these people return to their normal life and achieve their goals makes it all worthwhile. Clare gave me a quote which I thought was very apt:

“Doctors save lives, physiotherapists save the quality of lives”

If you’d like to get in touch with Clare, then email is and her mobile number is 07592344974. For urgent enquiries she asks that you call or leave a voicemail. 

Clare’s working days are Monday and Friday.

All the best with your new business Clare, the need is great and I am sure it will be a great success.

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