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How to enhance post-COVID healthcare with advanced practice

Attributed to Jacky Price and Shelley Peacock

The herculean efforts of health and social care professionals this year have been nothing short of awe inspiring. The collective commitment to patients and their families made by workers in our health service have captured the imagination of the country and placed the sector at the forefront for all.

Now must come a period of reflection. Whilst many will consider how the sector can better serve its patients on a day-to-day, operational level, thought must also be given to how to develop a hugely important component of the UK’s health service: its people; its workforce.

As working patterns and staffing levels begin to return to some semblance of regularity, employees considering how to boost their own skills in the long-term should embrace high-level education programmes, such as Non-Medical Prescribing courses and Advanced Clinical Practice qualifications. With the depth and robustness of the sector’s workforce under more scrutiny than ever, these qualifications are integral to both the NHS Long Term Plan and the NHS People Plan to enable meaningful workplace transformation, and career progression for healthcare professionals.

From our own experience as Advanced Clinical Practitioners (ACPs) and Non-Medical Prescribers (NMPs), the significant lift these roles give registered healthcare workers is phenomenal. No matter of specialism, the level of assurance these professionals can then bring to practice rarely goes unnoticed: whether that be through the way they communicate with patients and colleagues - or through advanced decision making-abilities, the result is always the same. Adaptability and proficiency are bolstered, as is the collective confidence and performance amongst colleagues.

We could point to our own experiences of working on the frontline, making the case that health workers who go on to become ACPs or NMPs genuinely transform services to improve the care patients receive - on top of achieving greater career prospects.

We can also share the real-life experience of OU alumni. Lyn, a qualified paramedic who is currently working as an Urgent Care Practitioner, has completed our NMP programme and is now able to take on additional responsibilities in assessing and prescribing medication for patients within her role.

Read Lyn’s full story here.

The OU’s own student data shows that over 80% of the postgraduate health and social care students who took part in a survey after they had completed their studies, agreed that studying for further qualifications has - or will go on to - help them achieve their career goals, pointing towards a strong correlation between career success and education.

We know that investment in learning and the promotion of career development holds the key, however, one might ask whether such a rigorously challenging environment could allow the capacity for staff to enrol on Master's-level qualifications? It’s a valid concern, but this is where flexibility is important and why employers and employees alike should consider how blended learning can give them a great deal of flexibility. 

Employees on blended learning courses can flex their educational needs around their professional commitments: online lectures can be accessed whenever, wherever; as can a course’s entire inventory of in-depth learning resources from forums and wikis to interactive activities. Unlike other courses - where rigid academic timetables take great chunks out of much needed down-time - more flexible options mean that students can complete their studies at their own pace.

“I couldn’t commit to the weekly full day on-campus learning offered by local universities, as I was heavily involved in setting up the new vascular service. With the flexibility of the OU option, although demanding, I could do both at the same time.”
Claire manages a new Regional Vascular Unit with high dependency beds, and has recently completed her Postgraduate Certificate in Non-Medical Prescribing.

Read more about Claire’s experience here.

Studying with the OU not only allows students to schedule their own professional development to compliment working patterns, but also enables great flexibility to learn at times to suit personal commitments too - especially important for those juggling family alongside busy working lives.

At the OU, we have a proven track record of providing flexible learning at postgraduate-level in the workplace. We have an MBA alumni network of over 26,000 graduates from over 100 countries, providing crucial knowledge and skills for their organisations. We believe that for there to be genuine transformation in the health sector’s workforce - where skills are prioritised, learned and retained - the students themselves benefit from the extra flexibility, gained knowledge and skills, and ultimately career progression.

Nobody can question the remarkable resolve and resilience displayed by the health service this year. Nevertheless, as we slowly look towards the post-pandemic future, NHS employers and staff must give genuine, considered thought to protecting and strengthening for the years ahead. Acknowledging the importance of flexible, continuous, high-level education such as Advanced Clinical Practice and Non-Medical Prescribing, may be as important a step as any.


The OU provides a choice of routes to ACP and NMP roles:

Discover our Postgraduate Certificate in Non-Medical Prescribing here.

Discover our MSc in Advanced Clinical Practice here.

Learn more about our Advanced Clinical Practitioner Apprenticeship here.

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