In light of the Cavendish review that brought issues around healthcare assistants in the NHS to the fore, Christine Wilkinson highlights one development programme already making a difference to 17 trusts after only a year

Camilla Cavendish’s review into healthcare assistants and support workers in the NHS and social care made a number of recommendations to ensure they are providing care to the highest standard. The review has propelled this somewhat forgotten group of healthcare workers into the spotlight and has highlighted the importance of their role.

Care support workers are a vital part of the healthcare team and provide essential nursing care for patients’ personal needs. NHS Professionals recognised that, while there are lots of people with a desire to work in this field, they do not necessarily have the skills or experience required.

To address this, the Care Support Worker Development Programme was created and officially launched in January 2012 and is now running across 17 NHS Professionals client trusts.

‘Because the same people are filling shifts they become part of the team, which certainly helps with continuity of patient care’

The programme is a good way of gaining entry to the NHS and is aimed at those who do not meet the current minimum experience criteria − six months in a care setting in the preceding two years. For many, the programme also provides trainees with a route into substantive employment in a trust and can be a gateway to a career in the NHS.

Compelling reasons

There are several reasons why trusts implement the programme. Most notably, they might have exhausted the supply of experienced care support workers in their local area and need a new approach to recruit people to fill these roles.

Trusts using the CSW development programme

  • University Hospitals Southampton Foundation Trust
  • Portsmouth Hospitals Trust
  • Northern Devon Healthcare Trust
  • Devon Partnership Trust
  • Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust
  • East Kent Hospitals Trust
  • University Hospitals of South Manchester
  • Tameside General Hospital
  • Stockport Foundation Trust
  • Salford Royal Foundation Trust
  • Central Manchester University Hospital Foundation Trust
  • Warrington and Halton Hospitals Foundation Trust
  • Oxford University Hospitals Trust
  • Southport and Ormskirk Hospitals Trust
  • West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust
  • East and North Herts Trust
  • Colchester Hospitals Trust

Nicky Sinden, lead nurse for workforce at Portsmouth Hospitals Trust, says: “Due to the demand for CSWs, we had to go out to agencies to fill shifts. This was an expensive option, so we used the CSW development programme to grow the available bank workforce, which we believed would give us better quality workers and make significant cost savings.”

The programme has been a success for the trusts involved and the trainees who have taken part:

  • for the trusts, the programme incurs lower costs with lower risk compared to direct recruitment;
  • trainees are engaged on a flexible basis with NHS Professionals;
  • the trainees have a significant impact on improving shift fill rates, with over 35,000 shifts filled through the programme between January 2012 and July 2013; and
  • most of the CSWs continue to work with NHS Professionals and the trust once they have completed their training.

At Portsmouth Hospitals Trust, 37 people had completed the programme by May this year, all of whom are working about 30 hours a week. 

Alice Baxter, head of nursing at Tameside Hospital, believes the trust has undoubtedly benefited from the programme: “The development programme gives us continuity. Because the same people are filling the shifts, they become part of our workforce and, therefore, part of the team, which certainly helps with continuity of patient care.

“It has also helped them build relationships with other team members. In addition, you don’t have to spend half of your shift showing somebody where everything is because, once they have the initial introduction to the ward, they become part of the team.” 

‘The programme has improved our workforce planning as we have more workers to choose from’

Cost rationale

Ms Sinden says: “NHS Professionals’ workers are much more cost effective than hiring agency workers to fill shifts. They filled 22,402 hours in 2012-13 and we have saved £42,000 through using them. The programme has greatly improved the quality of our workforce, as we have the same CSWs in our team.

“The programme has also improved our workforce planning as we have more workers to choose from, growing the workforce of our trust and NHS Professionals’ bank.”

‘The new staff have been able to work on the ward alongside regular staff and they have had an opportunity to learn new skills’

The programme has helped bring people into the healthcare workforce that would ordinarily be rejected for not meeting core criteria. For some, it has allowed them to transfer from a care setting to an acute setting; and for others, it has given them an entry point to the NHS.

Tracy Hall, a care support worker at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, previously worked in an office for 23 years before changing career. She has been working at the same hospital for eight months, as they kept her on after finishing her six-month training placement.

She said: “I work 30 hours a week as a CSW, but sometimes work 37.5 hours, working the other 7.5 hours on the bank. I enjoy the flexibility of the job and it fits in perfectly with my lifestyle as I have two small children.”

The initiative has been such a success that many candidates have recommended the programme to others.

Ward benefits

Ward managers have also found the programme beneficial, including Shirley Power, from Tameside General Hospital.

“The programme has been a great help, the new staff have been able to work on the ward alongside regular staff and they have had an opportunity to learn new skills,” she says.

“I have been able to implement the programme in my wards within the rotas, which has given the trainees confidence to participate in a team. They are a familiar staff member to the already established team, which is a real bonus and also means our pool of workers has increased. We need to keep this service in our trust as it is beneficial in all aspects of continued care.”

The development programme has been mapped against the National Minimum Training Standards for Healthcare Support Workers and Adult Social Care Workers in England.

New nursing programme

As well as the 17 client trusts that have fully implemented the programme, seven new trusts have requested the programme in recent months. Some trusts that have already seen many of their first cohorts of CSWs complete the programme will also be taking on more trainees in future. At Tameside, they have already taken on a new group of candidates.

As a new initiative, NHS Professionals stipulated that the length of the placement must be six months. However, feedback received from client trusts that have implemented the programme indicates that the length of the placement can be reduced as candidates have achieved the required competency levels within three months. Therefore, a shorter three month placement programme will begin as a pilot this year.

One significant recommendation of the Cavendish review was the introduction of a minimum certificate of fundamental care, which should be launched by summer 2014. We are working with a university provider towards accreditation of the current programme, aligning the standards with this proposed certification.

Following the government’s announcement that all applicants for student nurse training should undertake a minimum of one year of care work, NHS Professionals is exploring the potential of a one year, level 3 pre-nursing programme. This also fits in with the second of Cavendish’s recommendations, providing a higher level certification for experienced healthcare support workers. 

Christine Wilkinson is head of Workforce Programmes at NHS Professionals