Care support work with NHS Professionals can provide a useful grounding for nurse training, explains Anne Gulland
For anyone thinking about a career in the health service, care support work with NHS Professionals is a good way to gain a foothold.
The organisation offers people with very little or no experience in health care a two-week training programme in a selection of partner trusts. Once they have completed this, they will be allowed to sign up for a shift in any trust across England.
Christine Wilkinson, Client Relationship Manager for NHSP in the North West, says that the pre-employment programme enables people to gain valuable experience caring for patients.
‘We’ve had people training with us who have worked in retail but have always wanted to work in health care. It’s been life-changing for them,’ she says.
‘We’ve had people training with us who have worked in retail but have always wanted to work in health care. It’s been life-changing for them. Some have gone on to get a permanent position in NHS trusts or further training’
‘Some of them have gone on to get a permanent position in NHS trusts or further training.’
Care support work is not a way of fast-tracking into nurse training but it does give candidates an insight into nursing and useful experience when applying for training courses.
‘I’ve known people who have gone on to nurse training after working as a care support worker with NHS Professionals,’ says Ms Wilkinson. ‘We’re helping people come into the NHS.’
Care support workers do the same work as healthcare assistants and nursing auxiliaries - the vital and essential nursing care that patients need.
Candidates need a good general education, strong communication skills and a willingness to help people.
‘Generally, it’s one of the most important aspects of care they’re offering,’ says Ms Wilkinson, who is a registered nurse.
‘They help people to wash, dress, eat and go to the toilet. They might escort a patient to another department or assist a qualified nurse with a procedure. They talk to the patients. They’re a vital part of the healthcare team.’
The current economic climate means that care support work is proving particularly popular, and potential candidates in the North West have to join a waiting list to do the course.
The first part of the two-week course is classroom based, and students learn skills such as manual handling, communication and essential nursing care. In their second week, students work on a ward with a qualified nurse as a mentor who monitors their progress and assesses their ability to deliver care measured against set objectives. The majority of people are successful, says Ms Wilkinson.
After completing the basic training course, care support workers can do further training if they wish. For example, those that want to work in paediatrics will be offered appropriate specialised training, says Ms Wilkinson.
Elton Barwe has been a care support worker for the last seven months after completing the pre-employment training course. The 22-year-old Zimbabwean likes the flexibility that working for NHSP offers and says it is a good grounding for the nurse training that he hopes to do. He has experience of working in nursing homes and now does shifts on the acute medical unit in hospitals in Stockport and Manchester.
‘I wanted something a bit more challenging and I find that in hospital there’s a lot more action,’ Mr Barwe says.
‘I meet all kinds of people and work with people of all different ranks. Every shift is different and I’m learning all the time.
‘When I came here, I had no idea I would be doing this kind of work - there is so much opportunity in this country. I bath patients, I do observations and I have learnt a lot about the different instruments used on the wards. It’s been so helpful.’
When a successful candidate becomes a care support worker, they are given a user name and password so they can book shifts online. When they type in their code and password, the computer brings up the shifts available in trusts and areas they are able to work in. Time sheets are now sent electronically, which means that payments are made without delay.
‘You can book up to two weeks in advance but I prefer to book shifts just two days in advance. I prefer to work in that flexible way,’ says Mr Barwe.
‘What always surprises me is that there are always shifts available. I have always been able to work on the wards I want to.’
Despite working flexibly, NHSP staff are entitled to many of the same benefits as permanent NHS employees, including access to the NHS pension and holiday pay. However, they are only entitled to statutory sick and maternity pay.
A care support worker earns £8-£13 an hour, depending on whether they work weekdays, nights or weekends.
Such good rates of pay attract many student nurses to care support work and Ms Wilkinson says NHSP actively encourages students.
‘We do encourage student nurses to join us because generally they want to work with us and they find us eventually,’ she says.
‘Nurse training has changed since I did it - additional exposure in the clinical environment is helpful. Compared to working in a shop or a restaurant, it’s much better as it supports the study they’re doing. They gain more exposure to patients and they generally work in trusts where they are doing their placement.
‘On the whole, universities support NHS Professionals. Obviously the priority for student nurses is their studies and, as long as they don’t neglect them, the universities are happy to support their work with us.’
Case Study: Gratianna Lyons
Gratianna Lyons, a third-year student nurse at the University of Salford, describes care support work as ‘absolutely fantastic’. She is from the Republic of Ireland and supporting herself financially while studying is the only way she can train in this country.
‘I have to work - there was no other choice. When we did our induction, Christine Wilkinson came to talk to us about NHS Professionals. I work around my university timetable as I don’t want it to affect my studies,’ Ms Lyons says.
‘I work on any ward. Some wards will ring up and ask me to do a shift. I always get shifts - it’s so easy. It’s brilliant money - much better than working in a shop or a bar.’
She sometimes books a shift just an hour in advance and says she has never had a problem getting work. Payments are made quickly with the online booking and time sheet systems.
Student nurses are fast-tracked into care support work by NHSP and do not have to do the two-week training course. Ms Lyons, who has been a care support worker for two years, simply has to do a manual handling and cardiopulmonary resuscitation update every year.
Ms Lyons enjoys the variety of the work, which includes making beds, serving food, talking to patients and helping them with personal care. When she graduates in September, she would like to work on a medical or gynaecological ward.
She says that care support work has given her a good insight into her future career options. Nearly all her student colleagues do care support work in their spare time and Ms Lyons believes it helps with their studies.
‘Care support work keeps me in touch with the patients and conditions. I’m seeing wounds, observing the nurses work and looking at their documentation. I work at Salford Royal Infirmary which is also where I do my clinical placements, so it’s very helpful. Everyone knows that I’m a student and it gives them more reassurance. I’m aware of what to look out for and I can relate back to the nurses,’ she says.
‘My studies help my auxiliary work and my auxiliary work helps my studies.’
Ms Lyons is aware that, as a care support worker, there are certain procedures she cannot do, such as writing notes or taking blood pressure measurements.
She adds: ‘When I’m a student, I will help the auxiliaries, if I’ve got time. There isn’t any confusion as to whether I’m a student or a care support worker as the uniforms are different. I’m aware of the boundaries - I don’t cross the line.’
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How being a care support worker can enhance career opportunities