Researchers will assess benefits of HCA experience for nursing students

Nottingham University is following progress of a sample of nursing students previously recruited to a pre-degree care pilot, to assess effect of working as healthcare assistants before starting their training

An analysis is underway of the first cohort of nursing students to take part in a pilot requiring them to have a year's care assistant experience before beginning their degrees.

Nottingham University is observing a sample of these individuals during their three-year nursing degree to determine whether and how the pre-degree experience benefited them during their training.

Health Education England (HEE) established the pilot scheme in 2013, in which aspiring nurses work for up to a year as healthcare assistants (HCAs) before embarking on their nurse training.

In 2013/14, 250 applicants were recruited by more than 30 trusts to work as band 2 HCAs on an Agenda for Change salary of £14,294. Placements lasted between three and six months.

HEE nursing director Lisa Bayliss-Pratt told RCNi: ‘The study will look at what impact the care experience had on them. It will follow them through the three years of their course and look at whether they get through their course and whether they’re successful. It will see what difference the pre-degree experience made to them.’

More than one quarter of the 2013/14 recruits decided not to pursue a nursing career, 12% dropped out before completing the programme and most of the remaining people continued working as HCAs after deciding nursing was not for them. 

‘The pilot has gone from strength to strength,’ said Dr Bayliss-Pratt. ‘We now have recruits in every region. It’s been positive and one of the lessons so far is that it helped people to decide whether nursing is for them.’

Last year, concerns were raised by the Council of Deans of Health about how feasible it would be to require every prospective nursing student to work as an HCA before embarking on a nursing degree.

However, the HEE took the decision that pre-degree care experience should only be introduced where it could add value rather than making it a requirement for every aspiring nurse.

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