Healthcare support workers in isolated parts of Wales can now enrol in distance learning nursing programmes without giving up their job, as part of a ‘landmark’ initiative to retain the workforce.
The part-time courses, which are available through The Open University, will allow healthcare support workers from all seven of the country’s health boards to study to become a nurse without giving up full-time work or leaving home.
Health boards will receive a salary contribution for each staff member on the programme amounting to 16 hours a week, as well as agreeing to provide an additional 7.5 hours study time a week.
The courses are open to any staff currently employed in healthcare support roles within NHS Wales and primary care, including nurses and therapists who want to further their career.
Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW), a new organisation formed last year focused on educating the healthcare workforce, is spearheading the scheme.
Rebecca Tandy, a 25-year-old healthcare support worker at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth, is one of the 25 healthcare support workers across Wales making up the first cohort of students. Next year, the intake will rise to 40 with a view to further increases.
Ms Tandy said: ‘Giving up my job and going without any pay while studying for a full-time nursing degree wasn’t an option for me. I simply couldn’t afford it. The nearest full-time course is at Swansea University’s Carmarthen campus, which would mean a round-trip of 100 miles each day or relocating altogether, which again wasn’t an option.
‘I started my four-year, part-time Open University nursing degree in February this year. It enables me to study, live in the area where I’m from and continue working at Bronglais Hospital, doing the job that I’ve dreamed of doing ever since I left school. It’s a win, win, win scenario. I couldn’t be happier.’
Louise Casella, director The Open University in Wales, said that the initiative could be the only way to study a nursing degree for healthcare staff in rural areas.
She continued: ‘We have a great relationship with the Welsh health boards and they’ve been very supportive of our nursing degree from day one. It’s all about developing their own people, which can be more effective than costly recruitment drives.
‘Our nursing students are already living and working locally, which means they’re less likely to move away after graduating. Keeping hold of talented staff is welcome news for hospitals and patients alike.’