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Upskilling frontline care workers in a global pandemic

Alyson Thompson is Head of Learning and Development at Maria Mallaband Care Group

Nearly six years ago, in March 2015, the Shape of Caring review (Raising the Bar) set out over 30 recommendations under eight themes to ensure that throughout their careers nurses and care assistants receive consistent high-quality education and training which, in turn, supports high-quality care over the next 15 years.

Following on from the review, the role of nursing associate was created as a new position working with healthcare support workers and registered nurses to deliver care for patients and the public. Their duties include performing and recording clinical observations such as blood pressure, temperature, respirations and pulse; discussing and sharing information with registered nurses on a patients’ condition, behaviour, activity and responses; and ensuring the privacy, dignity and safety of individuals is maintained at all times. The qualification is also a stepping stone to becoming a registered nurse.

Since 2019 the University’s School of Health and Life Sciences has trained Maria Mallaband Care Group’s care staff to become nursing associates through the level 5 apprenticeship FdSc Nursing Associate programme. This programme is rated Outstanding by Ofsted, and was a recent winner of the Nursing Associate Training Programme Provider of the Year award at the Student Nursing Times Awards 2020. It has been incredibly successful and, as a result, has also enabled the Group to free up registered nurses to focus on more complex clinical care.

Care workers on the programme had been attending Teesside’s Darlington campus in both day release and week-long blocks before returning to their jobs – but then, just one day after the second cohort began their training in March 2020, national lockdown forced the University to close and we had to adjust our approach to the training. Whereas our care workers had been going into the University and then going into work for shifts or returning to placements, it was clear that could not continue: we had to prioritise the most important people, our residents and staff in over 80 care homes.

King’s Manor Care Home in Devon

The University quickly made the move from classroom-based learning to online and was brilliant in response. The block weeks were moved online, and the shift worked really well, but of course some practical sessions could not be replicated as staff were unable to access the University’s clinical skills lab which enables safe clinical simulation. So we worked with our Covid team, supported by the University, and arranged for practical training to be done by a single provider in our care homes. For example, having learned about injection training online with the University, practical training was then done in-house. Staff then gained competence by completing multiple competency assessments, always under the guidance of our nurses, and were signed off by assessor and supervisor.

It would have been easy to use the pandemic as a reason to halt the training, but nursing associates are needed in health and social care. If we were to stop, why and for how long? We are then only delaying the need for development in these roles. We have everyone from a great grandmother down to younger guys: some who never thought they were good enough to go to university or had children young and now want to progress in their careers. It has not been easy, of course, and at the same time our home managers have needed staff with them, so we have taken a wholly flexible approach.

The good news is that the first cohort of nursing associates are set to qualify this summer, with the second cohort also doing really well, and we are developing plans with the University to support their career trajectory to registered nurse. Teesside has made it so easy for us, and as such is the university of choice for our company.



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