A national “bridging” programme to “top up” healthcare assistants with the study skills they need to apply to university has been launched.
The course has been designed to help increase the number of people accepted onto nursing or other healthcare degrees who apply with vocational qualifications.
“One of the key issues is with universities accepting non-academic qualifications as equivalent in value to three A-Levels”
Those behind the new programme said many of its target applicants were often rejected due to a lack of study skills and also because univerisites did not recognise non-academic qualifications as being equal to A-levels.
The Certificate in Bridging Skills for Higher Education, designed by national training organisation Skills for Health, is aimed at healthcare support workers who are on level three apprenticeships – those equivalent to A-Levels.
“One of the key issues is with universities accepting non-academic qualifications – ie vocational – as equivalent in value to three A-Levels,” said Finbar Lillis, bridging programme lead at Skills for Health.
“We’re saying people’s experience operating at level three [training] as an HCA is as valid for entry [to higher education] as any other means, alongside the bridging qualification,” he added.
A total of 11 people have taken part in the first wave of the bridging programme, which involves employers helping to identify suitable candidates.
“When people apply to do the nursing associate role we could start to see colleges and universities saying: ‘hang on a minute the attrition rate is very high’ ”
All of them were interviewed by their local higher education institution – Bournemouth University – for pre-registration nursing courses and nine have now been accepted onto those degrees.
Around 10 further universities across England are in discussions to introduce the programme, which is being supported by workforce planning body Health Education England. In particular, in the South-West, employers are expecting ”hundreds” to take part before the end of the year.
Mr Lillis and fellow programme creator Angelo Varetto warned that, without greater efforts to roll out study skills programmes across the country, the government’s ambition to introduce its “nursing associate” role could be jeopardised.
The new role, which is currently being consulted on, will be designed to act as a bridge between HCAs and registered nurses.
HCAs hoping to become nursing associates may fail to be accepted onto the training – which is expected to be a higher type of work-based qualification at level five, such as a foundation degree – without previous study skills, warned Mr Lillis and Mr Varetto.
“People think you’ve got a whole load of support workers at level three training who will just step in to a level five qualification by default – and the truth is we know that it’s a big step academically,” said Mr Angello.
“Therefore, the expectation people will be able to go ‘I’m a level three support worker and I want to be a nursing associate’ and the trust will say ‘Yes, off you go’ isn’t quite the reality,” he said.
“When the further education colleges start to see people applying to do the nursing associate role we could start to see them and the universities saying: ‘Hang on a minute the attrition rate is very high’ or that people are not even getting on to the programme,” he added.