Nursing studies

Mental health charity creates fast track into nursing

Mental health charity creates fast track into nursing

A mental health charity has teamed up with a university to give healthcare assistants a fast track into nursing.

The programme allows students to complete a nursing degree in two years.
 Picture: John Houlihan

A partnership between a specialist mental health charity and a university is helping healthcare assistants (HCAs) take a fast track to becoming registered mental health or learning disability nurses.

‘We have staff who are fantastic healthcare assistants and may have always harboured the idea of becoming a nurse but they didn’t have the educational attainment,’ says Ged Rogers, clinical education manager at St Andrews Healthcare, which cares for patients with some of the most complex and challenging mental health needs in the UK.

‘Now they come onto our higher educational programme and start to realise they have potential. This increases their confidence to go on to the next stage of becoming a registered nurse.’

Quality assured

The government announced plans in July to increase the number of posts within mental health services by 21,000. But the RCN says the withdrawal of the student bursary has already led to a sharp fall in the number of university applications, exacerbating concerns about the nursing workforce.

To help ‘grow their own’, the Northampton-based charity has formed a successful partnership with the local university. This allows it to deliver quality-assured educational programmes in-house, ranging from a certificate in higher education – equivalent to three A levels – to a foundation nursing degree and a top-up degree for registered nurses.

‘The original concept was to provide a robust career framework for all our staff, supporting them to develop themselves through an educational programme,’ explains Mr Rogers. ‘This could only be achieved in practice through great partnership working.’

Demand for places

HCAs employed by St Andrews who have studied for the in-house certificate of higher education and have relevant experience, or who have a relevant first degree such as psychology, can apply for one of 20 places on the Aspire programme, run in partnership with Northampton University.

This allows students to complete their nursing degree in just two years. ‘It has wide participation, attracting all kinds of staff, including those who work part-time and have families,’ says Mr Rogers.

Demand for places far outstrips supply, and successful applicants receive up to £15,000 worth of funding for each of the two years, although their tuition fees are not paid.

Success story

‘If you can pay £9,000 for two years, rather than three, doing your nursing degree becomes much more attractive financially,’ says Mr Rogers.

With almost 60 students having benefited from the programme to date, the charity is now advertising for a third cohort, which will begin studying in September 2018.

So far it’s been a complete success with no attrition, and feedback from the university and placement providers has been excellent.

‘They are mature HCAs who have learned how to balance education and working,’ says Mr Rogers. ‘I think we’re breeding real future leaders.’

​Lynne Pearce is a freelance health writer 

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