Educating the next generation of Healthcare Support Workers

Written by Sharon Smith, HCSW Education Lead as featured in the Nursing Times

NHS Professionals (NHSP) are proud sponsors of the “Best Student Experience” category at this year’s Student Nursing Times Awards. We’re experts at putting people in places to care, running England’s largest NHS flexible staff Bank with over 180,000 workers. In the last year, our Bank Members have worked to deliver more than 39 million hours’ worth of care directly into the NHS[1]

At NHSP, we believe that the quality of education and training experienced by health care learners today, will have a direct impact on the quality and safety of patients now, and for many years to come.


Why we should value our Healthcare Support Workers

Around one in four of the NHS clinical workforce are employed in a support role (Griffin, 2023). Healthcare Support Workers (HCSWs) are a vital part of the clinical workforce, often the staff who have most direct contact with patients and their families. Last year, we recruited 1,018 people onto the HCSWD programme which saw a 124% increase on the number recruited in the year prior, 2020-21[2].

HCSWs are fundamental to the care system and need to be recognised as integral to future workforce planning. It is also crucial to ensure the development of multi-professional roles and the emergence of hybrid support roles across the evolving health and social care landscapes.


Establishing the Care Certificate

The findings of the Cavendish Review (2013), and The Shape of Caring Review (2015) highlighted too much variation in type and quality of education and training, and the need for some standardisation in training and assessment through the implementation of the National Care Certificate as a framework (2015).

We believe that unregistered should not mean uneducated or unprofessional. We must recognise the enormous contribution that HCSWs make, and ensure they are supported in their evolving roles and that frameworks are established for their professional and personal development.


Learning to Care through the Healthcare Support Worker Development Programme

Our Healthcare Support Worker Development (HCSWD) programme is designed to meet the ever-growing demand for more HCSWs across our Trusts. Our innovative curriculum design is based on a blended approach to teaching and learning, recognising the range of learning styles and previous experiences of these adults new to care and study.

We deliver a high quality, contemporary programme based on the National Care Certificate Standards. The content is flexible and responsive to evolving and complex care needs in a variety of settings. Through classroom teaching, virtual learning activities and our placement support team, we strive to:

  1. Develop reflective and professional, compassionate learners who can deliver care in a holistic way, rather than task focused.
  2. Build resilience and confidence, thereby developing personal development, lifelong independent learning, and retention.
  3. Deliver a blended learning to meet the needs of work-based learners using a mix of face-to-face teaching with innovative digital technologies, including online portfolios.
  4. Teach principles of compassionate and effective care and their application to the Care Certificate standards.
  5. Support our learners and their mentors throughout the placement.


What makes a positive learning experience?

We all remember the helpful friendly mentor, or sadly the feelings of being left to get on with it on our first day on the wards…

Many factors contribute to a positive student experience including feeling supported in the classroom and in the clinical placement settings, relevance of knowledge and respect for differing experiences, learning styles and most importantly, a ‘sense of belonging’ (Levett-Jones et al, 2009). This is often particularly important to our HCSW learners who are often completely new to care, stepping into the NHS for the first time onto a fast-paced clinical placement. They value a kind, skilled, knowledgeable, and caring mentor for support.

The clinical environment needs to be supportive and inclusive to ‘enable and encourage’ learning and provide opportunities for the development of skills and application of knowledge. Positive mentoring support, supervision and a supernumerary period is critical to the development of learning, but also to the wellbeing of the learner and can have a significant impact on retention and work satisfaction (Sarra et al 2018).


Mentoring Support

We must also recognise that our mentors need to be supported and appreciated in their supervisory roles and that we provide regular updates and training. The recent NHS Educator Workforce Strategy (2023) recognises service pressures can erode the time available for both supervising learners and supporting their wellbeing.

Therefore, let’s try and remember what it was like to be a learner on the wards and do our best to provide the best student experience we can!

If you would like any further information on our Healthcare Support Worker Development programme, please contact


Reference List

[1] Figures taken from NHS Professionals Annual Review 2021 – 2022

[2] All HCSWD figures taken from NHS Professionals Annual Review 2021 – 2022

Griffin, R. (2023) Health Care Support Workers. A Practical Guide for Training and Development. Routledge

Levett-Jones, T. and Higgins, I. (2009) Staff-student relationships and their impact on nursing student’s belongingness and learning. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 2009 65(2): 316-24

Sarre, S. Maben, J and Aldua, C. (2018) The challenges of training, support, and assessment of HCSWs: A qualitative study of experiences in three English acute hospitals. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 79(2018) 145-153  

NHS (2023) Educator Workforce Strategy