Agency offering short training course to fill nursing home vacancies

Major staff shortages have caused issues in nursing homes. Photo: George Arthur Pfleuger

TheCity.ie’s Ruadhan Jones heard from Tom Lordan, administrator with LHP Skillnet – which is looking to meet some the increased demand for nursing home workers with a three-week induction course for healthcare assistants.

The difficulties facing nursing homes as a result of the coronavirus has become a story of increasing importance in the past few weeks. Among the issues facing the homes is a shortage of staff, with up to 158 homes without 427 healthcare assistants.

LHP Skillnet, short for Leading Healthcare Providers, is a training agency and a member of Skillnet Ireland, a national upskilling body that receives funding from the State.

As part of the grant conditions, many brances of Skillnet Ireland provides a free employment activation program, intended to get people off the live register and into work.

Speaking to TheCity.ie, Tom Lordan explained that, prior to the crisis, one LHP Skillnet’s central tasks was to run a six-month course activation program in healthcare support.

“We were doing that major award as our employment activation program,” Lordan said. “Even prior to the Covid–19 crisis, there was a huge demand for trained and competent healthcare assistants. It was a very productive course, getting hundreds of people into safe and professional work.”

The course is accredited by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) as a Level 5 major award. It requires participants to take a certain combination of a certain number of modules to get the award, and is, according to Lordan, the industry standard for healthcare assistants.

“The training requirements of a healthcare assistant may be entry-level but it is one of the most time-consuming roles in the healthcare community,” he said. “While they don’t perform any advanced diagnostic or medical functions, they’re the lifeblood of the nursing home. They deal with all of the fundamental aspects of personal care — no nursing home could operate without them.”

“Healthcare assistants are crucial in caring for people who are elderly or have disabilities.”

The course typically last six months, but LHP Skillnet realised that was too long to meet the increased demand.

“The strain on the industry is significant,” Lordan said, “because of the numbers falling sick in nursing homes or in hospitals. There has been an exponential increase in demand. We partnered with Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) and the public employment agency Intreo to put together a program for dealing with the deficit right now.

“Our nurse tutors took the most important elements from the major award in healthcare support and condensed them into a three-week course. We call it the Healthcare Assistant Induction Programme. It was devised to be delivered online via interactive sessions, though we never used webinar software before.”

The extra workload put a huge burden on LHP Skillnet’s small team. Prior to the crisis, LHP Skillnet had added a new administrator, but this still meant that there were just three administrators and one manager working for the company.

The NHI have started a recruitment campaign. Photo: NHI website.

“It’s been incredibly labour-intensive, but it’s been necessary,” Lordan said. “Everyone agreed that it had to go ahead. We went to Intreo and they gave us a list of about 180 people interested in doing healthcare. We sent out emails to confirm their interest, put them into groups and carried on.

“We were able to use the NHI’s really comprehensive communications network to pass round an online survey which nursing homes could fill out to give us the info we needed. We compiled a database of all nursing homes that have a desperate need of care assistants.”

At the end of each course, the tutors provide participants with a list of nursing homes in their area and prospective students will make the applications themselves, Lordan explained.

Though the course won’t be accredited in the same way as the healthcare support, it will be recognised by the NHI, Lordan said.

“It can’t supplant the major award,” he said, “but it gives individuals the basics they need to go into a healthcare environment and not make mistakes. They’ll know what the key elements of their work will be, and then be trained subsequently.”

Lordan is hopeful that the changes made to the course will help the NHI meet some of the nursing homes’ needs.

“The demand is there, and our efficiency has improved,” he said. “In the first week, no one had used the webinar software before. The tutors and administrators had only a short trial. We kept the number of participants small to begin with, but with each passing week we’re able to expand the classes.”

Anne O’Connor from the HSE confirms that care homes are now being prioritised for PPE.
Photo: RTE player

So far, four groups have completed the course, with a further eight groups lined up. In total, LHP Skillnet expect around 300 people to participate.

Due to the newness of the course, LHP’s Skillnet don’t have figures for those entering employment, but Mr Lordan said that “they shouldn’t have any problems” getting into homes. He hopes that many of the participants will avail of the chance to do the healthcare support course once the worst of the crisis has passed.

“Anyone who does the induction programme will be offered the opportunity to progress to the major award,” Mr Lordan said. “Not all will want to, but I hope that a lot of them do come back and do the major award. Given the situation, we will most likely do that online as well.”

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