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Celebration time for newly qualified Nurse Associates

The first Nurse Associates have qualified from Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT), through its new Nursing Academy in partnership with The Open University (OU).

A special event was organised by the Trust at Kent Event Centre to celebrate their journey and achievements.

An international shortage of nurses prompted KCHFT to grow its own nursing workforce pipeline, through OU higher and degree apprenticeships. In 2018, it signed up to the OU’s Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship programme and three years later, the first cohort of new Nurse Associates have just completed their education.

“I’m so proud to see our first cohort of Nurse Associates graduating,” said Louise Norris, Director of Workforce, Organisational Development and Communications. “This was a dream three years ago, so to see it come to fruition was absolutely incredible.”

Paul and Dr Mercia

Paul Bentley, Chief Executive at KCHFT, said there were three key drivers behind the decision to offer apprenticeships through the OU. Firstly, KCHFT, which employs over 5,000 staff, decided it needed to take a more proactive approach to workforce planning and address staff shortages by training more nurses internally, rather than just looking externally for new recruits. Secondly, the Trust realised that many in the local community were finding it hard to live, train and work locally, which meant there was an untapped pool of talent. And thirdly, many would-be nurses are attracted to the profession later on in their career, but can find it hard to gain the necessary qualifications because of other commitments. “Nurses often had an inspiration to work as a nurse later in their career, perhaps after they’ve had a family, had a break, pursued other careers,” said Paul.

Through the apprenticeships, the Trust has made the Nurse Associate education more accessible to the local community, enabling it to recruit from a much more diverse talent pool. Dr Mercia Spare, Chief Nurse at KCHFT, says this kind of education opens doors for people, particularly those who don’t have formal qualifications, such as A-Levels or a degree, or those with financial and caring responsibilities. 

The traditional university training route is not for everyone. Sometimes that framework excludes people automatically. And sometimes you’re reliant on a wage, you have a family, you have dependent elderly people…The OU route enables people to earn and learn.

Dr Mercia Spare
Chief Nurse at KCHFT

The OU delivers Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship in collaboration with healthcare employers, such as KCHFT. A Nurse Associate is a highly trained support role and acts as ‘bridge’ between unregulated Healthcare Assistants (HCAs) and Registered Nurses. The apprenticeships can be used both to develop the skills and careers of internal HCAs and to support the recruitment of new nursing associate apprentices externally.

Having worked in partnership with healthcare employers for over 18 years, the OU is very well placed to deliver these apprenticeships. The OU is also a recognised expert in high quality, flexible learning, delivered digitally, something that proved to be very useful to the Trust during the training of this first cohort. “The OU were an obvious partner,” says Louise. “They are already used to delivering via the virtual platform and that has been absolutely critical, particularly during the last 18 months with the pandemic.”

As well as benefiting KCHFT, existing and future employees, Dr Mercia says the Nurse Associates also improve patient care. “We usually have two registered nurses on a shift. Sometimes that’s very hard to achieve, so what the nurse associate will be able to do is they can be that second registered person. They can never be in charge of the ward, but they will support, keep the patients safe and also be able to take a whole load of delegated responsibilities.”

Fola’s story


Folashade Yusuf-Adewuyi, known as Fola, has always wanted to be a nurse, like her mother. Born in Nigeria, Fola came to the UK in 2007 and through the Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship, she has finally realised her dream. “My mum used to be a chief matron in a state back home and she inspires me a lot. She loves to help people and I’ve always wanted to be like her.”

Fola applied to join the Trust’s apprenticeship programme with the OU and has just graduated as one of the first cohort. The flexible nature of the programme and the high level of support really helped Fola her studies. Now that she is qualified, she is really enjoying her new role. “I have more responsibilities because some of the staff report to me. Sometimes I am the one that co-ordinates the shifts and I have all the resources. My family are proud of me and my mum is extremely proud of me, that I’m following in her footsteps.”

Dr Mercia Spare, Chief Nurse at the Trust, is delighted to see Fola become a Nurse Associate. She was struck by Fola’s personality and desire to succeed, her determination to follow in her mother’s footsteps and her ability to overcome challenges in life. “I think she will be a superstar,” she said.

To find out more about the Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeships programme click the below button:
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The Open University | Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust | Fola’s story

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