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Spotlight On An Expert: May 2024

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Introducing Occupational Therapist and expert witness, Sally O'Connell...

My mum claims full responsibility for introducing me to the idea of becoming an occupational therapist. Having already completed a degree in Physiological Sciences, I was at a loss as to what I wanted to do with ‘the rest of my life’. I had always enjoyed working in care homes during holidays whilst at school and university, and decided to work full time as a care assistant on completing my first degree. It was during this year of work that my mum suggested I might enjoy occupational therapy. If I’m honest, I had no idea what an occupational therapist was, but as a good daughter, I promptly applied to the college of Ripon and York St John (now York St John University) and successfully gained a place to study for my second degree.

I lived at home during my studies and continued to work in a local care home at the weekend to help fund my travel to and from York. I can recall being immediately inspired by the role of occupational therapy in enriching people’s lives and must have been able to impart this passion to the care home manager, who not only signed up to offer observational placements for first year students, but also employed an OT to work in the care home to develop opportunities for meaningful and purposeful activities for the residents.

On graduating in 2000, I went to work at Pontefract and Pinderfields Hospitals in West Yorkshire (now part of the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust). I was incredibly lucky after completing medical and orthopaedic rotations to move firstly into spinal injuries, and then acute stroke rotations; and that was it, my passion for working in neurology was firmly ignited. I moved into a Senior 2 neurology rotational post working across the acute neurology and stroke wards, and the regional neurological rehabilitation centre (NRC). I remember a conversation with my inspirational team leader when I recounted my worry that I would “never know it all” – she replied “I know! And that is what makes working in neurology so exciting”, and she was so right. I find myself telling my junior staff and students the same thing.

I worked as the lead OT on the NRC for two years before changing to work part time after having my first child. I moved into a clinical specialist role within the long term neurological conditions team, a clinic and community based team. I really enjoyed the challenge of leading out-patient clinics alongside the rehabilitation medicine consultant, including Botox and splining clinics, leading the motor neurone disease team, and developing a clinical pathway for follow up for minor head injury and post-concussion patients. Whilst on maternity leave with my second child, I completed my dissertation for my master’s degree, focusing on spasticity management. On becoming pregnant with my third child, I decided that life would be a lot more manageable if I was able to work closer to home, and began to look for job opportunities in the Harrogate area.

I interviewed 2 weeks after my daughter was born and have literally no idea what answers I gave to the interview questions, being in that post-delivery sleep deprived blur, but I must have said some reasonable things as I was offered a post on the neurological rehabilitation unit, and the Trust agreed to honour my maternity leave. I started working in Harrogate in 2011 and continue to work there now as team lead for the acute stroke therapy team. I have also had the opportunity to work as the Professional Lead for OT and am now the AHP lead for one of the Trust directorates and the Trust stroke speciality lead.

I am generally a collector of experiences and, as my children grew up, I found I had time for new challenges, and as well as taking up running, I began to work independently as an OT, including being the treating therapist in a number of medicolegal cases. This gave me insight into the medicolegal process and I became interested in working as an Expert Witness.

I have worked for Somek & Associates since 2019 and have certainly found the new challenge that I was looking for. I am instructed on stroke and neurology cases and have completed some really complex assessments and written some very long and complicated reports. These complex cases have really stretched my analytical thinking skills and have given me opportunity to research some very interesting products and services for the benefit of the Claimant. I find that my Somek work compliments my NHS work well, and I thoroughly enjoy the process of writing. As an OT, I love that I can really focus on occupation and put that at the heart of trying to provide reasonable restitution.


Outside of work I do still run although not as often or as far as I used to do, and I continue to sing with the same choir I have sung with for over 25 years, together with my mum. Over the last year I have enjoyed wild swimming with a NHS colleague who also happens to be a Somek physiotherapy expert, and we are proud to have swum all winter in “skins” (no wetsuit). My three children are now all teenagers and seem to need continual feeding and ferrying around, but honestly, despite the busyness, I wouldn’t change a thing.

If you are looking for a role that compliments your NHS or private work, visit our recruitment pages to learn more.

Sally has completed over 30 cases with us and has a 50/50 claimant/defendant split. You can read her profile here.