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Exclusive: Film inspires new senior mentorship scheme for newly qualified hospital nurses


Experienced nurses nearing retirement are being employed full-time to help support and mentor newly qualified staff, under a pilot scheme intended to boost retention rates at a hospital trust on the London and Essex border.

The “senior intern” scheme was the brainchild of Kathryn Halford, chief nurse at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust and already appears to be having an impact.

“I thought we could marry the two together and some of my more experienced nurses could go and support the new nurses”

Kathryn Halford

Between 100 and 150 band 5 nurses join the trust each year and, ordinarily, 20% would leave before the end of their first year in the role but since the scheme launched, just three nurses have left, Ms Halford told Nursing Times.

Of those, two had wanted to work in the community and left when roles came up and one left to go travelling, said Ms Halford, who said she expected to see nursing vacancy and turnover rates fall.

She told Nursing Times that her inspiration for the sheme was the film, The Intern, in which a young businesswoman played by Anne Hathaway benefits from support and advice from a retired “senior intern” played by Robert de Niro.

“I was watching The Intern with my daughter and thought it was really interesting that older people who had retired, yet didn’t want to leave work completely, were being brought back into work and helping people,” she said.

“The senior interns absolutely love it, because they are introducing people into a career they have spent their whole life in”

Kathryn Halford

She said: “It just occurred to me that we have lots of nurses who are coming up to retirement still in their 50s, still quite keen to work but perhaps don’t want to do the 12-hour shifts on the wards.

“That was coupled with the fact that our new band 5 nurses are millennials, so used to being very supported into whatever they’re doing,” said Ms Halford. “I thought we could marry the two together and some of my more experienced nurses could go and support the new nurses as they came into the ward areas.”

She successfully applied to the national workforce planning body Health Education England for funding for an 18-month pilot scheme, which kicked off in September last year.

The trust now has three whole-time equivalent “senior interns” working across its two main hospital sites – King George Hospital in Ilford and Queen’s Hospital in Romford.

The three nurses are all “very experienced clinical nurses”, who were working on the frontline at the trust up to the time they moved into the new posts.

Ms Halford said the trust had deliberately recruited hands-on clinical nurses as opposed to those who may have moved up into management roles.

“If you have moved into senior management, you perhaps don’t recognise the stresses and strains of everyday life on a ward now,” she noted.

“We have noticed that the transition from senior staff nurse to sister post is a difficult transition for people to make”

Kathryn Halford

While the interns are not there to train nurses in technical skills, they may still do clinical tasks alongside junior staff, she added.

“For example, if a nurse is struggling, then doing a technical task with them may be a good way of having a conversation, because they may feel more comfortable talking,” said Ms Halford.

“It is really more a pastoral role – so it’s, ‘I’m having a really bad shift, it’s very difficult on this shift’, and they go to the ward and support the nurse through those shifts.”

The senior intern team is based with the trust’s recruitment nurse and supports nurses working in all areas including emergency, surgical, medical, paediatric, intensive and maternity care.

“People can call them, so sometimes the senior nurses on the wards will call and say, ‘A nurse is having a bit of difficulty could you come down and so do work with her?’,” said Ms Halford. “They also go round the wards proactively checking on all of our new staff when they start.”

While the senior interns predominantly work with band 5 nurses, they have also been supporting nurses at band 6 and above, noted Ms Halford.

“We have noticed that the transition from senior staff nurse to sister post is a difficult transition for people to make, so they are also supporting our new ward managers and ward sisters,” she said, highlighting that the team supported such nurses in a number of different ways.

“They might come the first time they are managing a night shift, because that’s quite scary for people. So, they would come and perhaps do the first four or five hours with them or it might be the first time a nurse was in charge of a bay on the ward,” she explained.

“It helps to have someone who isn’t your busy ward manager to ask what you need to do and how to do it”

Kathryn Halford

She said: “They are just there as a sounding board really for people to check they are doing the right thing and as a bit of extra support.”

The senior interns also help talk nurses through procedures like booking annual leave and sorting out study leave. “These are minor things, but sometimes people get really worried about them, so it helps to have someone who isn’t your busy ward manager to ask what you need to do and how to do it,” she said.

The interns could also step in when a particular role was not working out for a nurse, who perhaps believed they wanted to work in a specific ward area but changed their mind once they get there.

“They will work with the nurses to see if they can transfer to another ward in the organisation that is more appropriate to their skillset,” said Ms Halford.

She highlighted the extra support from the mentors had been especially invaluable in the trust’s emergency departments, which she noted were “very, very busy” and “quite stressful”.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust

Kathryn Halford

Kathryn Halford

“When we have had several new nurses on the same shift, the senior intern will often go down onto ED and be there for most of the shift to support the nurses while they are working,” she said.

“We have about five newly-qualified recruits down there and some have really struggled at times, so it has been really useful having that extra bit of support from somebody who isn’t desperately trying to manage the beds or offload patients from ambulances,” she said.

Feedback from staff so far has been positive and other professional groups, including allied health professionals and doctors, are now keen to have their own senior interns, said Ms Halford.

“The senior interns absolutely love it, because they are introducing people into a career that they have spent their whole life in and really enjoyed,” she said. “The new recruits enjoy it and find it really helpful, because they have got another person who isn’t a busy ward manager that they can go and ask advice from and who has a bit more time to spend with them.

“Also, the ward teams find them very helpful because if they have got a member of staff they are a bit concerned about they have got another person who can come in and really dig underneath what the problem is, look at how we can help and then find a solution,” she added.


Readers' comments (8)

  • bill whitehead

    What a fantastic sounding initiative. Good for both the newly qualified nurses and as a useful and fulfilling front line role for senior nurses supporting them.

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  • This is a great initiative that is clearly having a positive impact on the retention of newly qualified nurses. Mentoring, supporting and nurturing is often forgotten in busy workplaces but it’s value is enormous as is being demonstrated. Well done Kathryn Halford for having the foresight.

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  • Angelika Ziomek

    What an excellent idea ! As a student nurse about to qualif I would find this kind of support invaluable. Current NHS ( especially acute ) is very challenging place to be, we often see our qualified colleagues struggling and the morale can be sometimes low, those core nursing values which brought us to nursing fade away as nurses feel burnout and anxious. We are not resilient because we are not being thought how to and cynicism and frustration often replace enthusiasms we once felt. I often see my colleagues working through their breaks, or being disturb every 5 minutes on the only half an hour they get to sit down during 12 h shift. This is not a way to carry on if we want nurse to feel satysfied and supported at work. Long term this will only creat more problems with staff retention. We ( nurses ) need to feel like we can ask for help, take break, not feel in a way or slowing others down when we at this vulnerable time of transition. We need to be told it’s OK to put ourselves first in order to provide good care for the patients. I’d love to see this initiative in Worcestershire.

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  • What a fantastic idea. I’m due to qualify August/September time so am often looking ahead to what is in store for me. After being in placements & working as an HCA I can see the difficulties with increased patient numbers & staffing issues leading to newly qualified nurses not receiving the preceptorship they are expecting & need. Anything that helps all concerned is great.

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  • It is easy to forget the stresses placed on the newly qualified nurses on the wards of a busy hospital. Long hours, few (if any ) breaks, enormous responsibilities and often having to deal with people with overly high expectations of what is on offer in the NHS today. No wonder so many leave without adequate support. --This is a great idea!

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  • I think this is such a brilliant idea and invaluable to all staff .it is most beneficial to newly qualified staff to nurture and support them as the ward managers of today have very little time to nurture ,as they have a great deal of clinical and administrative work to complete with targets to meet.I think this should be introduced across the country ,it will help to bring back good practice and more stability with staffing.

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  • It is an excellent idea, well-done Kathryn, This kind of support needs to be introduced to all wards rather having EDPN inwards, Edpn's role can be left as it is along with EDPN'S if newly qualified nurses get senior nurses help means they are well supported.The nation's shortage of nurses as per nursing time in London itself approximately 10000 nurses can be reduced to a certain level, congratulations on the big step

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  • It's a great idea, but it is shameful that nurses have been placed in such dire straits that they need extra special help.

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