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A Flying Start for the newly qualified

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A Scottish scheme is easing the transition between being a student nurse and qualified practitioner, with online learning, structured study days and mentor support

In this article…

  • Improving support for newly qualified nurses
  • How nurses progress through the Flying Start programme


Julie Stewart and Laura Barber are practice education facilitators, Ayr Hospital, Ayr.


Stewart J, Barber L (2011) A Flying Start for the newly qualified. Nursing Times; 107: 19/20, 19.

Practice education facilitators (PEFs) have been employed at NHS Ayrshire and Arran since 2004 to support clinical learning and staff development.

The PEFs have developed an innovative approach to supporting nurses undertaking the NHS Scotland Flying Start programme.

Flying Start was set up to support newly qualified nurses, midwives and allied health professionals within NHS Scotland in their first year of practice ( Launched in 2006 by NHS Education for Scotland, this online programme consists of 10 learning units (Box 1) designed to develop confident, capable practitioners through activities related to practice, with mentor support.

This article describes the progress of the practitioner’s journey through the programme within NHS Ayrshire and Arran. Since 2004, the PEF team in Ayrshire have established links with the University of the West of Scotland to support students in the transition to becoming newly qualified nurses and raise awareness of the Flying Start Programme before they qualify.

On gaining employment within NHS Ayrshire and Arran, all newly qualified staff attend an induction programme, which includes a discussion about Flying Start. They are encouraged to contact their local PEF and register on the Flying Start website, after which they meet the PEF to discuss the requirements of the programme. The nurses are each supported by their manager, mentor and PEF.

Protected learning time

As a result of the findings of Rights, Relationships and Recovery: the National Review of Mental Health Nursing in Scotland (Scottish Executive Health Department, 2006), NHS Ayrshire and Arran set up a rotation scheme to support the programme in the mental health directorate.

This allows nurses to rotate through two clinical areas (one community and one inpatient based) during their first year, supporting them to develop competencies. Six facilitated study days are integrated into the programme to allow time to create a Flying Start portfolio of evidence.

Since 2008, all newly qualified adult nurses at NHS Ayrshire and Arran have been entitled to three facilitated supported study days in their first year. A further three supported study days are available at line managers’ discretion.

Supported sessions

The PEF facilitates supported sessions, equally spaced across the year, which provide guidance. These are interspersed with mentor support meetings to monitor the nurses’ progress. The sessions allow for peer-group discussions and enable nurses to raise concerns in a supportive environment.

Initially, newly qualified nurses were encouraged to work independently through Flying Start with support from the PEF. However, as a result of nurse feedback, the PEF team developed a structured learning day. This consists of four staggered one-hour sessions where nurses work through the website by themselves, interspersed with group sessions.

The nurses are encouraged to reflect on how NHS Ayrshire and Arran policies, evidence-based practice and published research are implemented in clinical areas.

Completing the programme

To complete the programme, nurses must show evidence in their portfolio relating to all 10 learning units, and demonstrate that they have become more confident and capable within these areas.

The completed Flying Start portfolio of evidence should act as a reflective account of the nurses’ perceptions of their progression. Mentors contribute reports to show how their new colleagues have developed.

When mentors and managers are satisfied that nurses have completed all 10 learning units, and at the end of their first year in post, a date is set for a Knowledge and Skills Framework review and the Flying Start completion paperwork is signed by all parties, including the PEF.

Some nurses who have completed the programme have become Flying Start mentors. Their insight into how the programme works has helped ease new nurses’ progression through the learning units. We hope this trend will continue.

Box 1. flying start learning units

  1. Communication
  2. Clinical skills
  3. Teamwork
  4. Safe practice
  5. Research for practice
  6. Equality and diversity
  7. Policy
  8. Reflective practice
  9. CPD
  10. Careers


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