Cure-all partnership

May 1, 2019

Meeting the health and social care needs of the North East is proving a real headache for employers and educators alike. Simon Rushworth learnt how Sunderland College has joined forces with Be Caring

As the clinical director and chairman of Be Caring, a domiciliary care organisation with 900 staff, Lance Gardner is determined to create the opportunities which enable his employees to realise their potential and develop their skillset.

“The people who work for us want to go further,” he explains. “But historically there have been few opportunities for career progression within domiciliary care. It’s a fairly flat structure. I wanted to work with a partner who could provide my colleagues with the tools they need to develop and excel.”

Step forward Sunderland College. Already positioned as one of the region’s leading providers of tailored training to the health and care sector, its experience and ambition proved to be the perfect fit for Be Caring and its innovative boss.

“I’ve known Lance for many years and this is a partnership that’s built on trust and a knowledge of our respective reputations,” says Ellen Thinnesen, chief executive for Education Partnership North East, a new regional group that’s the result of the merger between Sunderland College (including Harlepool Sixth Form) and Northumberland College.

“Be Caring saw what we were doing here in terms of transforming our health and social care provision for the benefit of the North East, its young people and employers,” Ellen continues. “There is a harmony in terms of the core values that underpin two organisations at the heart of the health and social care sector. It’s a partnership that I’m very proud of and a partnership that can have a wholly positive impact.”

In 2019 Sunderland College works alongside 75 employers within the health and social care sector with 200 students completing a minimum of 100 placement hours. More than 96 per cent of its health and care students progress to employment or further study and 95 per cent of its apprentices remain in employment following the completion of their programme. Both Lance and Ellen are keen to extol the virtues of Sunderland College’s health and care provision and, in particular, its eye-catching Health Hub. Launched earlier this year, the state-of-the-art simulation area allows students to gain real-life experience prior to securing placements and jobs within an industry struggling to plug an ever-expanding skills gap.

“It’s a fantastic facility and for a business like ours, which focuses on looking after people in their own homes, the fact that it features an apartment space is ideal,” adds Lance. “No two homes are ever the same – there are always pets and pieces of furniture that don’t quite fit – and the healthcare professionals of the future need to be prepared for that!

“The reality for many people in this country is that they would rather be cared for at home, surrounded by the things they know and love. The apartment within the Health Hub recognises that need.”

Ellen, a qualified health professional with a passion for nursing, adds: “As far as I’m concerned this is only the beginning. I’ve got a vision for the Health Hub and that vision includes increasing digitisation and technology but not at the expense of face-to-face communication and personal care. The idea of a good bedside manner is still central to our healthcare profession and always will be. It’s a case of fusing tradition with technology.”

That focus on developing the personal, as well as the professional, skills of students alongside Be Caring’s workforce is echoed by Adele Cook, qualified mental health nurse at Sunderland College. “One of the first units we cover is communication,” she adds. “It’s the foundation for everything else that follows. The Health Hub allows us to create role play situations which develop students’ communication skills and self- confidence prior to their work placements and future employment.”

The Health Hub is home to a three-bed hospital ward, treatment room and sluice area and the self-contained apartment which features mobile device-controlled lightning and entrance cameras to mirror the modern home care environment. In addition, a mock ambulance interior inspires the paramedics of the future to pursue their chosen career.

Level Three Health and Social Care student Aniqa Begum took the lessons learnt from the Health Hub into the highly pressurised environment of the A&E department at Sunderland’s City Hospital. The 17-year-old admits the industry-standard training proved invaluable from day one as she embraced an incredibly challenging placement. “It would have been far too daunting otherwise,” she admits. “But thanks to my time in the Health Hub nothing fazed me. I see my future as a paramedic and I’m excited to take the next step.”

Lance watches on as Aniqa and her fellow students showcase the full potential of the Health Hub and he believes the North East is in an increasingly strong position to tackle a growing skills gap in the health and social care sector.

The predicted shortfall in health and social care roles across the North East is expected to stretch beyond 3000 by 2024 but Be Caring’s boss refuses to panic.

“This partnership clearly benefits our current workforce but it also gives me a glimpse into the future and the wealth of talent coming through,” adds Lance. “I look at the Sunderland College students being put through their paces in the Health Hub and I see ready-made healthcare professionals. As an employer I could take on any one of these young people and know that Be Caring is welcoming a highly-trained and motivated professional who will benefit from the ongoing pastoral care that we pride ourselves on. I know they will hit the ground running.”

As well as hosting healthcare professionals at the Health Hub, Sunderland College will deliver all of Be Caring’s external training requirements at sites in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. “It’s fantastic that Sunderland College is the preferred provider,” adds Ellen. “I’m really excited about the partnership and the challenge is to ensure it develops and grows in the future.”

Lance adds: “I agree with Ellen and I truly believe this is just the start. Be Caring don’t want to be a mediocre domiciliary care company. We want to be the best and we want to align ourselves with the best. That’s why we’re working with Sunderland College – I can’t think of anyone better.”

Education Partnership North East plans to replicate the Health Hub facilities across the whole college group and make significant investments to its infrastructure and resources to expand the reach of skills development across the region as well as establishing strong regional and national employer partnerships.

Sunderland College

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