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Independent mental health provider to train own nurses

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An independent healthcare provider has revealed plans for a new in-house training academy to secure its own pipeline of nurses in the face of national shortages.

Cygnet Health Care said it wants to be running pre- and post-registration mental health and learning disabilities nursing courses within the next two years.

“When you look at the post-bursary world of nursing the academic courses are not full”

David Wilmott 

The group announced its plans for Cygnet Academy of Health at an event on Friday to mark the launch of its latest nursing strategy for 2019-22.

The idea is still in the early stages and a steering group has been set-up to oversee the development including working out how courses would be funded.

Director of nursing David Wilmott told Nursing Times that the move was in part a response to declining workforce numbers.

“We know the registered mental health and learning disability nurse numbers are falling and, actually, if we could take our staff right from support worker, nursing associate, student nurse, registered mental health nurse – it actually gives us a complete pathway for nurses in the organisation,” he said. 

“We could recruit someone into a healthcare support worker route right up to a registered nurse and I think that’s really, really important for us,” he added. 

Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council show the number of mental health nurses on its register fell from 91,325 in March 2014 to 88,421 in March 2018, while learning disabilities nurses dropped from 18,933 to 17,174 over the same period.

david wilmott

david wilmott

David Wilmott

In addition, Mr Wilmot said the reforms of student nurse funding in England had sparked concern about the future supply.

Latest data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) shows applications to study nursing in the country are down 30% since the bursary was scrapped in 2016.

“We’ve got probably similar vacancies to other organisations but when you look at the post-bursary world of nursing the academic courses are not full, so I’ve been very clear all along that we need to consume our own smoke, no-one is going to solve this problem for us,” Mr Wilmott said.

“Even if the government policy changed tomorrow, actually it’s going to take a long time to get those nursing places filled, so we need to do something before,” he added.

The academy will also offer career development training with ambitions to have established two courses – one on co-production and another on quality improvement – by the end of this year.

Mr Wilmott said Cygnet wanted to open up these programmes to a small number of external professionals as well as its own staff to help showcase the organisation, which provides services to people with mental health concerns and learning disabilities across 136 sites in the UK.

The nursing strategy also included aspirations to identify “new and innovative roles”, both within nursing and to support the nursing workforce.

“The workforce wants to be more fluid so maybe employers need to be more fluid”

David Wilmott

For example, Mr Wilmott noted how advanced nurses in its child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) were supporting doctors with work that had “traditionally been medical territory”.

He added that Cygnet had mooted the idea of having paramedics in place at CAMHS units to provide emergency care to young people when they self-harmed to save them the “distress” of going to accident and emergency.

“We are going to be exploring that now through the work of the strategy to take that forward over the next two to three years,” he told Nursing Times.

The academy will be based in London and will include both virtual and face-to-face teaching.

Mr Wilmott, who qualified as a nurse in 1997, said Cygnet wanted to work in partnership rather than competition with the NHS and even suggested it would be open to looking at ways of sharing key staff.

“If we have got clinical specialities that the NHS doesn’t have, can we share staff across?,” he said.

“I think we need to have more conversations like that because the workforce wants to be more fluid so maybe the employers need to be more fluid,” he added.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • David Solomon

    Fantastic idea. I teach pre registration mental health and many of my colleagues have note the decline in the student numbers this year- I also teach postgraduate advanced nursing which is unaffected.

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