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Nursing employer webinar highlights importance of flexibility and innovation

Last year, the NHS released its Long Term Workforce Plan an ambitious plan to train record numbers of nurses, doctors, dentists and other healthcare practitioners in order to address workforce gaps and meet the needs of a growing and aging population in England.



The aim is to grow the NHS’s permanent workforce to enable the NHS to deliver preventative and proactive care.

Dr Helena Ann Mitchell
Chair of the Royal College of Nursing’s Mental Health Forum and Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at The Open University (OU)

The OU recently hosted a webinar to reflect on issues and challenges arising from the plan, and how a flexible, innovative approach to recruitment, training and retention will help the nursing profession meet current and future workforce needs. Dr Mitchell hosted the webinar, which also involved two panellists – Lisa Gammon, Apprenticeship Lead at Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and Nerys Bolton, Associate Head of School, Curriculum and Innovation at the OU.

All three experts agreed that the long-term plan is much needed, positive and ambitious, while also highlighting the need for short and mid-term solutions to staffing needs. They also highlighted the need to ensure the correct infrastructure is in place to train and support the next generation of healthcare practitioners. 

It’s a huge, resource-intensive process. It’s not just about recruiting students in order for them to qualify – it’s also about making sure the resources are there to support students when they are out in practice, about having practice tutors to support students.

Nerys Bolton
Associate Head of School, Curriculum and Innovation at The Open University

The importance of flexibility and innovation

“We can no longer afford to think as we have in the past, expecting a different outcome,” said Lisa. “We’ve got to put in different interventions, different ways of thinking, different ways of doing things to receive a different impact.”

For example, the issue of education cold spots, areas where young people are most likely to experience education and employment barriers. The OU has traditionally widened participation in learning through the provision of flexible, accessible courses, breaking down barriers and enabling people of all ages to engage with further education. Employers need to reach out to a more diverse pool and educate people about the different career options in health and social care and the different entry routes.

Given current levels of economic and political uncertainty and the cost of living crisis, the panellists said it’s even more important that people are supported in their quest to enter the sector or upskill into a new role. The biggest barrier for people who would like to work in the health and social care sector is the cost of studying for a degree, since the introduction of tuition fees in 2017. 

It’s placed a massive barrier on people who are financially challenged, who cannot give up a job in order to study to be a nurse. They might have a mortgage to pay and families to feed. That’s a huge challenge.

Lisa Gammon
Apprenticeship Lead at Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust


The role of apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are one solution, giving people the opportunity to earn and learn at the same time, without paying tuition fees. Lisa explained apprenticeships have been hugely successful in Northamptonshire. The Trust also has a careers academy and a work experience programme for young people. But, the emphasis is not just on encouraging young people to consider health and social care as a career. An increasing number of people are choosing to enter the nursing profession later on in life and employers such as Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust are facilitating that through initiatives such as Volunteer to Career programmes, where people can gain important skills and experience through volunteering.


Key takeaways

Dr Mitchell closed the webinar by highlighting two other key points made by Lisa and Nerys during the session:

  • The importance of partnership working and effective stakeholder relationships
  • Nursing is an occupation that “happens in the real world” and that requires lifelong learning

To find out more about the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, visit

Find out more about the nursing associate and registered nurse apprenticeships at the OU.


Watch the session on demand

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