By Nicola Mannock, Principal and Chief Executive at Stratford-upon-Avon College
We don’t need to look far to stumble across extensive debate on the future of the NHS. Everyone has an opinion. But regardless of your personal views on issues such as funding or care in the community, what is undeniable is that today’s health sector workers, from trainee nurses to experienced social workers, from midwives to occupational therapists, face unprecedented challenges.
The dedication of staff, commitment to their profession and exceptional level of care they provide is surely beyond question. It takes a particular type of selfless person to make caring for others their chosen career, and we should never underestimate the debt we owe them. An aging population with its own health and care needs, constant advances in medical knowledge and practice, and innovations in treatment and care mean that health sector professions require an ever-increasing level of knowledge and skills, with most new entrants now having to study for a degree.
Many professions within the health care system now require degree-level qualifications involving a minimum three-year training period. Of course, that’s assuming a professional trainee has already achieved the qualifications necessary to begin training – typical degree entry requirements are 5 GCSEs plus at least 2 A-levels; if not, an even longer period of study awaits. And this can mean years out of an adult’s life without the opportunity to earn.
Becoming a health sector worker demands not only a huge personal commitment in terms of one’s time, but also financial obligations; the training period can cost up to £9000 per year.
To ensure that those seeking a career in the health sector are not deterred by financial concerns, the NHS Business Services Authority runs a bursary scheme, awarding means-tested bursaries to eligible students on health professional training courses to pay tuition fees and assist with day to day living costs. Moreover, those aged 24 and over are eligible for the 24+ Learning Loan which they are not required to repay until their annual earnings top £21,000. Feedback from learners who are in receipt of this loan is overwhelmingly positive. For those who have always wished to work in the health sector, but thought it could never be option open to them, it provides the opportunity to fulfil their dreams.
As educators, we need to play our part in ensuring the future of our health care system. We need to provide training that is relevant to both the particular care professions and the trainees themselves. A three-year nursing degree, for example, combines equal amounts of theory and practice learning, gained through placements in hospital and community settings. It opens up career paths: with continued commitment and hard work, graduate nurses can specialise quickly in a variety of exciting and rewarding roles
People of all ages hear their true calling and choose to embark on a career in health care. It is here that colleges play a vital role as they provide the opportunity to retrain. Yet, due to government funding policies, the financial sustainability of colleges is becoming increasingly problematic and many face highly challenging times. Stratford-upon-Avon College, however, is fortunate in maintaining a very robust financial status and, in response to this need for retraining, has launched its Access to Higher Education Diploma (Health).
This widely recognised Access course is designed to allow adults wishing to move into the health sector, but who lack the qualifications necessary for university course entry, a fast-track towards a Higher Education qualification, by providing them with the skills, knowledge and confidence needed to succeed at University. Delivered over the span of a single year, our course – 15 hours per week and timetabled around school drop-off and pick-up times – is tailored to be of benefit to as many people as possible, regardless of their age or current circumstances and commitments. Moreover, those accepted onto the course aged 24 and over are eligible for the 24+ Learning Loan which they are not required to repay until their annual earnings top £21,000.
Whatever the future of our health care system, well-trained, professional, knowledgeable health care workers are essential to our nation’s infrastructure. We need to support our health system. We need to support every dedicated individual working within it. Fundamentally, this means ensuring that the next generation of workers are nurtured and provided with every opportunity to gain entry into the profession and with the education and practical training to enable them to achieve their full potential. If we achieve this, the future of the NHS will rest in safe hands.
For more information on any of Stratford-upon-Avon College’s courses, please visit www.stratford.ac.uk or call the College on 01789 266245.