Wales seeks to retain nursing talent with distance degrees

In a first for Wales, healthcare support workers employed in any of the country’s seven NHS health boards will be able to enrol on a range of part-time distance learning nursing programmes made available through The Open University.

“For many in rural areas, this could be the only option they have to study”

Louise Casella

The courses are also available to registered nurses in Wales who want to progress in their careers and gain further qualifications.

Those behind the scheme hope it will stop nursing staff from leaving their jobs or the country altogether in pursuit of a degree-level education. 

The initiative, spearheaded by Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW), part of NHS Wales, is set to be of particular benefit to those living in rural Wales who may be miles away from a university. 

Healthcare organisations can receive a salary contribution for each staff member on the programme amounting to 16 hours per week.

Employers have also agreed to provide an additional 7.5 hours study time to students each week in line with flexible learning routes provided by other Welsh universities.

Rebecca Tandy, a healthcare support worker at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth, is one of 25 staff members from across Wales who make up the first cohort of students. She is studying to become a registered nurse.

Ms Tandy said: “Giving up my job and going without any pay while studying for a full-time nursing degree wasn’t an option for me. I simply couldn’t afford it.”

She explained that the nearest full-time course to her was at Swansea University’s Carmarthen campus, which would mean a 100-mile round-trip each day or having to move, which again was not an option for her.

“It enables me to study, live in the area where I’m from and continue working”

Rebecca Tandy

“I started my four-year, part-time Open University nursing degree in February this year,” she said.

“It enables me to study, live in the area where I’m from and continue working at Bronglais Hospital, doing the job that I’ve dreamed of doing ever since I left school,” said Ms Tandy, who described the scenario as “a win, win, win”.

According to HEIW, a new organisation formed last year dedicated to educating, training and shaping the healthcare workforce in Wales, the total number of students will rise to 40 for the next intake, with a view to increasing the size of the cohorts year-on-year.

Director of nursing at HEIW, Stephen Griffiths, described the Open University initiative as a “landmark moment” for healthcare support workers in the country.

“One of our priorities as a leader in the education, training and shaping of the Welsh healthcare workforce is to widen access to as many people as possible,” he added.

“In that respect The Open University was the ideal partner, given its long-established record of providing long distance learning,” he said.

“Now more than ever before, healthcare support workers from a diverse range of backgrounds across Wales will have the opportunity to study and achieve their full potential,” he added.

“Perhaps most importantly of all, the students themselves remain employed as healthcare support workers, meaning their employers continue to benefit from their knowledge, skills and experience,” said Mr Griffiths.

“Their employers continue to benefit from their knowledge, skills and experience”

Stephen Griffiths

Director of The Open University in Wales, Louise Casella, said: “More and more healthcare staff in Wales and taking up our new nursing degree.

“For many in rural areas, this could be the only option they have to study for a degree and take their career in an exciting new direction,” she said.

Ms Casella explained that it had a great relationship with the Welsh health boards.

“It’s all about developing their own people, which can be more effective than costly recruitment drives,” she said.

“Our nursing students are already living and working locally, which means they’re less likely to move away after graduating,” said Ms Casella. “Keeping hold of talented staff is welcome news for hospitals and patients alike.”