02 Nov 2010

Open University develops new learning opportunities for healthcare assistants

The Open University has developed a new education offer in response to the changing and expanding role of healthcare assistants/healthcare support workers (HCAs) and assistant practitioners (APs) working in healthcare services.

Currently over 180,000 HCAs are employed within the NHS, with thousands more working in the private healthcare sector. As health services have changed over the last few years, so has the role of HCAs and APs, which have grown to include aspects of patient care that were once the responsibility of nurses.

The Open University has responded to these changes by designing a new learning and development framework especially for HCAs and APs to enable them to access education and training to support their changing roles.

The new programme will be 50 percent theory and 50 percent practice, with the theory related back to practice. The first stage will be a general introduction to the fundamentals of caring for patients, leading to the second stage where students will be able to choose to specialise in different areas, including health and wellbeing, mental health, children, long-term conditions and end-of-life care, according to their role and the needs of their workplace.

Healthcare assistants studying with the OU will be able to study individual modules to support their continuing development, and will also be able to work towards a Certificate of Higher Education in Healthcare Practice, specifically designed for those working at Levels 2/3 of the Skills for Health Career Framework. They can also build on this to achieve a Foundation Degree in Healthcare Practice (or a Diploma of Health Education in Healthcare Practice in Scotland) which, in response to employers’ feedback, has a ‘fast-track’ option, allowing students to complete the qualification in two years. The Foundation Degree builds in even greater flexibility as it has been designed to ‘mesh’ with the OU’s new pre-registration nursing honours degree (launching in September 2012). This means it will be straightforward for HCAs or APs to progress to nursing education at a later stage of their career development if they choose to. Alternatively, individuals can continue their studies and achieve a BA in Health and Social Care.

Professor Jan Draper, Director of Nursing, said: “Healthcare assistants are an integral part of the UK’s health and social care service. The changes in the health service over the past few years means not only do they undertake fundamental care responsibilities, making sure patients are clean and comfortable, but they also record temperatures, take blood pressure and read pulses. Over the last five to seven years there’s been a move to develop more advanced healthcare workers, some of whom are working in highly specialised clinical areas. The educational level and step-on/step-off approach of our new learning and development framework is designed to reflect this diversity of healthcare support worker roles.

“The key to The Open University’s new programme is its flexibility. The OU’s distance learning model means that not only can students work while studying – earning a salary and minimising debt – but it means employers can address the training needs of their staff in a way that minimises the time needed out of the workplace. The nature of the framework also means healthcare assistants can step off at certain points along the way or continue towards a full foundation degree, and also take breaks in their studies if they need to.

“The Open University is committed to widening access to education and we’re really excited that we‘re formalising our offer to healthcare assistants with this new programme.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about the framework can contact:


Notes to editors

Professor Jan Draper is attending NHS Employers’ Leading Workforce Thinking 2010 conference, which takes place 16-18 November (Professor Draper is available 16 and 17 November). Please send interview requests to Lauren Hardy.

The Open University’s health and social care faculty currently has over 17,000 students and offers over an extensive range courses in subjects from death and dying and mental health to communications in health and social care, developing leadership and social work.

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