One of the UK’s largest independent care home providers has paid tribute to Teesside University for the ‘online pivot’ that enabled it to fulfil its commitment to professional development during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
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.
The 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.
The role of nursing associate was created following the Shape of Caring review held by Health Education England in 2015, and sees staff work with healthcare support workers and registered nurses to deliver care for patients and the public. It is also a stepping stone to becoming a registered nurse.
Maria Mallaband has been using the new qualification to upskill its care workers, 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, national lockdown forced the University to close.
“There was huge uncertainty around what was going to happen next,” said Alyson Thompson, Head of Learning and Development for Maria Mallaband Care Group. “We had staff from all over the country on the cohort, and there was undoubtedly initial panic that day in terms of what we were going to do with the University shutting down and how to get people home safely. We managed to arrange hotels and travel, and from there the discussion was how we are going to work. Communications at that point was absolutely key. The University quickly made the move from classroom-based learning to online and was brilliant in response.”
With Covid-19 hitting care homes especially hard during the pandemic, Thompson admitted that safety was paramount.
“Whereas before our care workers were going into the University and then going into work for shifts or returning to placements, it was clear that could not continue,” she said. “We had to prioritise the most important people, our residents and staff in over 80 care homes. 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. We worked with our Covid team here, 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.”
The approach has provided ‘the necessary blended learning’ at a time when Maria Mallaband made a strategic decision to continue the training.
Thompson added: “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. It has not been easy, of course, and at the same time our home managers have needed staff with them. Holidays have had to be forgone, and staff have been sent home when asymptomatic, so those on the cohorts have had to step up and cover shifts. We have had to be flexible too, and as a result the University has supported us as much as they possibly can. They have been really flexible on assessments and extensions, which we have appreciated as the staff are very tired. One of our cohort has also been promoted to a home manager, and has currently taken a break from the training to learn the business side of running a care home.”
With the first cohort of nursing associates set to qualify next summer, Maria Mallaband is now developing plans with the University to support their career trajectory to registered nurse.
“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,” Thompson explained. “For those who did not think they would go to university being able to study on campus is a big thing, a kudos, and whilst the way forward is definitely blended learning we look forward to all those on our cohort returning at the right time. We continue to work closely with Teesside University, ensuring safety first to have a phased return allowing staff back on campus.”
Linda Nelson, Associate Dean for Enterprise and Business Engagement in the University’s School of Health and Life Sciences, added: “Successful partnership working is key to the delivery of all apprenticeships and especially in the challenging times of Covid-19 in health and social care. Together with Maria Mallaband Care Group we have adapted the delivery model to enable staff development to continue and workforce requirements to be met.”