After identifying a shortage of nursing and healthcare professionals, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) worked with Clarence House, NHS Wales and Health Education in Wales (HEIW) to develop the RCN Prince of Wales Nursing Cadet Scheme. Together with in person and online learning the scheme facilitates observational learning placements in a range of healthcare settings to enable 16-25 year olds to explore careers in nursing and health and social care. Following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the scheme successfully transitioned into a fully online offer. The success of the scheme has led to it being extended for a further three years and rolled out in England.
The scheme was developed in response to the shortage of nursing and healthcare professionals following discussions between the then RCN chief executive and general secretary, HRH Prince of Wales, and HEIW’s workforce planning leads. Their aim was to give 16-25 year olds the confidence, skills and knowledge to pursue a career in healthcare. Partnership with HEIW gave the scheme access to funding and enabled better engagement with trusts when setting up observational clinical placements. The project was agreed, and a pilot scheme arranged in 2019.
HRH wished for the scheme to be offered to young people who were already part of a uniformed organisation, and so the initial pilot scheme was developed and delivered face to face (before the COVID-19 pandemic) to the Army Cadet Force Wales. From this pilot the project team were able to refine the curriculum, and create workbooks, facilitation guides and portfolios.
A second cohort were being engaged when the COVID-19 pandemic arose, making any face-to-face elements of the scheme impossible. Within six weeks, the RCN project team had taken the scheme online and were trialling cohorts with Army Cadet Force Wales and St John’s Ambulance Cymru over Microsoft Teams. Everything from application forms to workbooks and session delivery became digital and contactless. Online workspaces were created on the RCN learning platform, allowing cadets to download modules and upload work for marking. This linked with the HEIW website to offer career resources and work experience placement information.
The role of partnership working
The partnership between RCN and HEIW was vital in getting the project off the ground, making sure that the project was supported financially, and was high on the agenda of health boards and trusts across Wales. Local health boards were key in designing the placements, handling the paperwork involved and engaging with young people, to give a picture of what it is like to work in healthcare. RCN and HEIW developed agreements with placement providers, meaning that cadets who have completed the scheme are offered a guaranteed interview for a bank health care support working or apprenticeship role.
Results and benefits
As of September 2021, 169 cadets had taken part in the scheme, with a further nine cohorts starting the scheme, this is estimated to double by the end of the year. Individuals coming through the scheme have now begun taking up health care support worker roles and nursing degrees, and partners have started to recognise the scheme as a potential source of future workforce.
The cadet scheme has shown encouraging numbers in terms of male involvement, with an average 27 per cent of participants in the cadet scheme cohorts being male, compared to 11 per cent of nursing staff in the UK. External evaluation has shown that as well as targeted healthcare related learning, cadets have also come away from the scheme with improved skills such as confidence and resilience. The scheme has been so popular with the cadets involved, that many have volunteered to become ambassadors and facilitators, encouraging future cohorts to take part.
The success and popularity of this scheme has led to it being rolled out for three more years and many further cohorts. The plan to extend the scheme to England is underway and from there to roll it out throughout the UK. All course materials are produced in such a way that they can be easily adapted for different regions, allowing for local nuances, and the conversion of the course materials to an online format has meant that the scheme is accessible.
For further information on the project, you can contact Sandy Harding, Head of the Prince of Wales nursing cadet scheme