STP Support | Training Support – A National School of Healthcare Science Perspective

This post has very kindly been written by Louise Ayers, Head of Programme Support at the NSHCS

So, here I am, the Head of Programme Support at the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS), trying to write a blog post (my first one ever!) that will have meaning and purpose to trainees and training departments out there, trying to get through their programmes and further their careers in healthcare science. I want to reach out and I want to tell you how we can help and how important it is that you understand our purpose and why we do want you to talk to us when you are having problems. 

To us, you the trainees are the reason why we come to work every day, the reason why we strive to improve our services and the reason why, when you struggle, we want to help. We would like to think that every training experience is good and that every trainee sails through the programme with no significant issues but that’s not our reality or yours. Life happens whilst you are training and each journey is unique with its amazing experiences learning about patients, the latest scientific innovation and how it is adapted for medical purposes, the idiosyncrasies of how hospitals are organised and work or being part of a committed team that just makes the patient experience that little bit better. On some occasions, however, life can deal you a difficult and unexpected blow or becomes hard to deal with for all sorts of personal reasons. Our purpose is to be here when that happens, and as far as we possibly can we want to guide trainees and training departments through their training, to signpost to services that can help or to actions that may make a difference to improve things. 

A brief history of the NSHCS

I’ve worked with the School since its inception in 2009 and I’ve watched it grow from a small merry band of three people to the complex and broad ranging education provider that it is today. In the grand scheme of things we are still very small, a team of 45 or so people working across the four UK countries, > 1,700 trainees, 600+ training departments trying to navigate the complex world of healthcare education. In Health Education England (HEE), delivering scientific training and education still has a great deal to learn from our medical, dental and nursing colleagues, however we promise you that we are and will continue to advocate on your behalf continuously to develop and support your training.

Your national school is unique and diverse in its make-up and purpose. Not only in the UK, but globally. Its responsibilities range from organising national meetings and events, to assessing and checking the quality of training, to providing complex digital systems, recruiting to programmes, providing education on training and assessment, to writing and reviewing curricula, to delivering high stakes assessments and to working strategically to ensure the healthcare science workforce has people with the skills it needs both today and long into the future. In that respect, the school has recently appointed seven  regional healthcare science deans in HEE to ensure that each region in the country is heard and that regions unique voices are responded to. 

Phew, that’s a lot with a small amount of people working on a national basis! It’s a big job, a significant set of challenges and there is no one organisation within NHS education that is like us, but we are determined to do the very best we can and are adapting our services and seeking to improve all the time. 

What can the School do to help trainees? 

What can the School  do to help? One of the most significant challenges of my job is making sure we can provide a responsive and helpful support service to trainees. The frameworks for our programmes are complex; each training experience is individual and no two issues are the same, so we have to be able to provide the right advice at the right time which meets those individual needs. So we support trainees dealing with a wide range of issues which include:

Health and wellbeing – This is broad ranging from physical to mental and we have systems in place to support trainees where their training is affected. This in the main includes the Exceptional Extenuating Circumstances (EEC) Policy Exceptional extenuating circumstances policy – STP and HSST (2020)  amongst others. There are a number of support and guidance resources on the School website – see Training support – but trainees who are struggling should contact us for further advice. 

Changes to training – Again, don’t forget, that these can be supported via the EEC policy but could include a wide range of circumstances such as impact of bereavement, ill health with absence from training or potentially ill health without absence from training; e.g. mental health issues, training delivery or service reconfiguration issues, unexpected carer responsibilities, sudden return home or career break. There are examples available in the policy to give further guidance. 

Transfers of training – There is a specific policy for this, the Scientist Training Programme – Transfer of Training Policy (2017) . It is written for the STP but can be used for other programmes as the principles are the same. Most trainees will use this when they happily get a new job before the end of the programme and want to transfer their training to complete. (You do need to tell us about it and get approval before you move please.) Some will utilise this policy where there has been a significant change in circumstances where they can no longer continue to train in their current location. This policy comes with a health warning: “healthcare science is a small profession in comparison to others, and relocation of trainees to alternative locations is dependent on training capacity and the ability for a new provider to meet the accreditation standards of the programme”, so we can provide no guarantees that we can accommodate the request (but we will try). If you think that this is something you need then come and talk to us about it. 

Training delivery issues – These issues relate mainly to the quality of the training experience, the training environment, and to professional relationships. Trainees should always discuss their concerns with their department in the first instance and you should consider whether you have the basic support in place, such as a training plan, regular supervision, support for rotations etc. If not, we will need to know, as these are fundamentals for achieving accreditation status for the programme and they are things that we would expect to be in place when you start for your sake and your trainers peace of mind.  

Completion of programmes – We have different processes for different programmes and all have guidance available on the website: Completion criteria for the Scientist Training Programme (2021) — Scientist Training Programme, Routes through the programme — Higher Specialist Scientist Training programme. If you are unsure drop us a line and we will be happy to advise. 

Statutory Leave – This is something that trainees need to discuss with their employer first to get agreement of the timeline and the impact on their status as an employee before contacting the School. We do need to know you are going on statutory leave, when and how long for so we can update our records, adjust your completion timeline and notify the other relevant providers e.g. the University and the commissioning body. If there are any complexities associated with your period of absence then we are happy to advise both you and your employer as needed. 

Part time training – Technically, at this point in time, neither the STP or the HSST are available at the outset on a part-time basis. This is something we are looking at but the structure and nature of the programmes make it a significant challenge to adapt to providing flexible training. So currently, part-time training is considered following statutory absences related to maternity, paternity, parental or adoption leave or where there are health and wellbeing issues that require a reduced working pattern on a long-term basis. In the eventuality of there being a part-time training need, trainees and departments must contact us so we can work with you to determine the impact on the training plan, assessment and completion timelines. 

Progression issues – These can be highlighted or raised both via MRP/ARP or other routes. If you are struggling with issues that are outside of your control and they are impacting on your ability to progress, if you have attempted to rectify them and this hasn’t resulted in improvement, then come and talk to us. We may not have all of the answers but we will try to help.

Conduct/capability concerns – All trainees are employees of their trust and so are subject to the same terms and conditions as any other employee. If there are issues with conduct and capability then the local HR processes should be utilised. We are happy to advise on this, particularly where it is impacting on training progression, but as the School does not employ trainees, the relevant local employment policies should be invoked.

This is an important point that many trainees may not realise. Your Trust is your employer and they are there to help you initially. It is not that the School does not want to help as is sometimes thought, but HEE literally cannot interfere in another NHS organisation without very good reason. The same applies to all other health professions, such as medicine, dentistry, nursing etc. 

Professional relationship issues – This is a tricky one. We hope that trainees don’t experience this but the reality is that sometimes there are people you just don’t gel with or unexpected issues arise that are difficult to resolve. Training officers are asked in the Train the Trainer to ensure there is emphasis on building positive working relationships with trainees and we expect trainees to act in a professional manner but the reality is that sometimes things do go wrong. In these circumstances it is challenging for the school to get involved as we try to remain impartial and will always advise that local HR or the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian be consulted to resolve. As we are not with the trainees day-to-day or aware of local HR policies and processes it is difficult for the School to identify options to improve things, although we will always try to advise where these issues arise

Myth busting

I also want to try to dispel some myths and rumours that we hear from time to time. Myths and rumours are probably inevitable in a complex system so our advice is, if you are ever unsure, just ask us. 

  • If you contact us will that affect your professional career? 

No it will not. We are an organisation here to ensure trainees maximise their opportunities to be successful in their careers, to ensure we have the skilled workforce to provide the services that patients need. We invest time, resources, energy and funding in training. We have no desire to put barriers in the way of progress. It will have no reflection on trainees if they choose to contact us for advice and anyone suggesting that is the case is misinformed. 

  • If I contact you in confidence but don’t want you to do any anything about the issues I’m raising, will you take any action? 

No, not if you don’t want us to. We respect confidentiality but our ability to help is significantly hampered if you don’t allow us to take any action. Our approach will always be to listen in the first instance, suggest strategies or actions which may help, but if you need something to change that is outside of your control then us taking action on your behalf is an option. The only time we might take action without consent is if we feel there is a safety risk to the individual or department which could result in harm to them, their colleagues or patients or the public. 

  • Will I lose my training opportunity if I ‘fail’ MRP?
    The mid review of progression (MRP) for STP and the annual review of progress (ARP) for HSST are assessments of progression but they are not ones to pass or fail. That is language we would discourage when discussing these processes. If you get an outcome which suggests you need further support and advice you will be invited to meet with the School so that an action plan to address the progression shortfall can be identified. Most trainees respond well and are supported effectively to get back on track. Trainees whose progression is persistently less than required for reasons that are within the control of the trainee may result in their exit from the programme but this is only if all other options for support or action have been exhausted. 

As you can see there is a long list of things we can and do help with. In fact, since we have started recording our support activities we have supported nearly 750 trainees across the years. Don’t get me wrong, we can’t help with every eventuality. I’m not a trained counsellor or mediator and I would be afraid to attempt to be either without more letters after my name but it doesn’t mean I won’t try and signpost you, make recommendations or put you in touch with someone who can help. Sometimes you might ask for help for something that isn’t within our remit or we simply can’t support the request. That is a possibility but it shouldn’t discourage you from asking the question because if we can help you we will. 

We have a team of people available ranging from the staff dedicated to training support including me, Katherine Bayley (Training Support Case Manager), Mehwish Khan (Lead Administrator) and Farheen Sharif, (Administrator). We also have our STP Training Programme Directors, Namir Al Hasso and Jane Lynch available for scientist advice, and our Accreditation team Liz Plumb (Head of Accreditation and Admissions), Jas Daine (Quality and Accreditation Manager), Rachael Peters and Nicola Gould as Accreditation Case Work Managers and Sarah Millar (Lead Administrator) available for quality of training advice. 

So, if I can leave you with anything it is the message that we can help and we want to help. However, we do need to know what you need. We can’t help if you don’t tell us there is a problem.

In the next blog we will outline all of the activities we are undertaking to expand our support for training! Take care.

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