A new foundation degree-level apprenticeship in mental health and social care, described as one of the first of its kind in the country, is to be launched in the South West of England.
The training programme has been developed by Weston College in Somerset to train assistant practitioners, after local employers reported a lack of mental health skills among care assistants.
“This new course will really open the door to these people who might not previously have been able to study to degree level”
The course has been put together alongside the University of the West of England to ensure those who qualify can also go on to later complete a shortened, two-year university degree in mental health nursing.
Mandy Dewer, health partnership development manager at Weston College, where the Foundation Degree in Integrated Mental Health and Social Care will launch in September, said the progression into mental health nursing was one element that helped to make it unique.
The college has been running another foundation degree, in health and social care practice – leading to qualification as an assistant practitioner – for the past eight years. But, following discussions with local employers, “it became apparent there was this real gap around mental health”.
“Not only in roles aligned to mental health nursing, but there was also a need in social care,” Ms Dewer told Nursing Times, noting that employers had wanted to see an additional programme created for assistant practitioners, working at band 4 level within the NHS, or a similar level in the social care sector.
Ms Dewer acknowledged that the “swooping in” of nursing associates – a new role being brought in by the government that is also designed to work at band 4 – had put assistant practitioner training into “disarray”.
“We recognised an increasing skills shortage of highly skilled health workers in the region, particularly in mental health care”
However, she said the college had decided to continue with its new course, because it believe it “has still got a lot of significance, particularly in mental health”, due to the fact it provided specific training in this area, while nursing associates were expected to be more generic and focussed on adult nursing.
The new two-year foundation degree-level apprenticeship will include some training in physical health looking at physiology, anatomy, disease and complex conditions, as well as modules on communication, sociology and psychology, with the aim of caring for people in the community.
It has been designed as a “hybrid between the nursing and social care agenda,” Ms Dewer told Nursing Times.
The course will be funded by employers through a new apprenticeship levy being introduced by the government next month, though students may also have the option of paying the £6,000 annual fees themselves.
Around 20 to 25 people from the local area who are in employment with a health or care organisation will be able to train on this year’s programme, which will see students earn money while they learn.
‘Unique’ apprenticeship launched to plug mental health skills gap
The college has been working with Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust and it is expected that many of the first set of recruits will come from the organisation.
“From working with local employers, we recognised an increasing skills shortage of highly skilled health workers in the region, particularly in the growing area of mental health care, that needed addressing,” said Ms Dewer.
“We have a large number of people working at lower levels in healthcare, such as care assistants,” she said.
“This new course will really open the door to these people who might not previously have been able to study to degree level – whether down to affordability, flexibility around childcare and existing employment, or not having the right entry qualifications – and it will help fill the gap with specialist mental health professionals, which is something we desperately need,” she added.