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Healthcare industry placements during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Industry placements are continuing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some organisations may have paused their on-the-job learning programmes during the first lockdown, many are now restarting them after ensuring their workplaces are COVID-19 secure, in line with the most up to date guidance.

With approval from senior managers, and the completion of additional risk assessments, industry placements can go ahead in healthcare settings during COVID-19 and can be an effective part of your talent strategy.

Contents

Yeovil District Hospital (YDH), a key contributor to this guidance, provides acute care for a population of around 180,000 in South Somerset, North and West Dorset, and parts of Mendip.
As one of the largest employers in the area, the Trust recognised its responsibility to invest in young people and raise awareness of T Level opportunities available in the health and care sector.

Working in partnership with Yeovil College, the Trust piloted industry placements in Healthcare. Some of the students that took part in the placement opportunity are now employed on the trust bank while still attending college.

Students who gain a position on the bank during their industry placement can choose to count this towards their placement hours, as long they agree a pattern of working with the Trust and continue to record this. 8 students that were on industry placements also supported the trust during the COVID-19 pandemic. These students either supported by working on the trust bank, or as volunteers in the organisation. This experience has further strengthened their desire to work in the NHS.

Who is this guidance for?

This is intended as a companion resource for staff members in primary care, community and healthcare settings including NHS Trusts, who are organising or co-ordinating industry placements.

It contains guidelines rather than guidance that may assist staff in learning and development roles or clinical education, who can share it with individuals planning or line managing placements in particular departments.

Myth-busting barriers

Will we have enough qualified staff to mentor students?

Mentoring an industry placement student does not have to be undertaken by the person line managing the placement. This supportive role is a great development opportunity for a senior healthcare support worker, or a nursing associate and can help divide the responsibility associated with an industry placement across more staff to increase capacity.

Apprentices can also be very effective mentors.

You can see in the table below the differences between the duties Line Managers and Mentors would complete. Mentors can also be from different skill areas or occupational routes to their student. You could source mentors for clinical industry placement students from non-clinical teams who may have greater capacity to support.

Line manager Mentor
Set work tasks Navigate the organisation
Manage timelines and progress Ask questions from different angles
Assess work performance and outputs Believe in the student's ability and potential
Communicate within and across teams Be a sounding board
Conduct work reviews and appraisals Impart useful knowledge and experience
Motivate and support achievement of day-to-day activities Provide encouragement and support
Ensure healthy and safe working practices Identify and work towards career goals

 

Will we have the time or capacity to run placements?

There are still ways to engage with industry placements even if now isn’t the right time to welcome a student into your workplace.

  • Work with your provider: Begin work with a local provider to design the delivery model, role descriptions and application process for placements.
  • Prepare your staff: Identify line managers and mentors, who don’t have to be senior or scarce staff, to undertake any L&D or attend an Employer Support event to prepare for the placement.
  • Judge the timing: Map the peaks and troughs of your work so far and predictions for the future to try and identify when may be best to start an industry placement and what supporting actions will be needed.

Plan alongside other schemes and develop a checklist to streamline the process. This will help lay the foundations for a meaningful placement that will result in added capacity for your workforce.

Can we let students mix with patients?

As industry placement students are treated the same as staff, they will be able and expected to access testing in line with current organisation and national guidance. This is continually updated and can be accessed through NHS Employers.

This may be something to consider building into your conversations with industry placement students, parents/carers and providers when setting expectation about the role, or even building it into the agreement.

Students should download and use the NHS COVID-19 app, in line with the advice to healthcare workers. However, like all staff, they are advised to pause contact tracing while they are working in healthcare buildings.

If a student receives an alert through the app stating that they are considered a contact of a case of COVID-19, they should immediately inform their manager and self-isolate in line with the latest guidance.

Single point of contact

Identify one key contact in the setting and one at the education provider who will be responsible for communicating about industry placements.

"Before we organised this, there were multiple people from our local college contacting different staff on the wards hosting placements, which caused confusion and meant not everyone had the same information. Now we have one person who links in with the provider, before communicating the messages internally to relevant staff."
Nikki Morgan, Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust

Should students wear PPE?

Industry placement students would be expected to learn about personal protective equipment as part of their health and safety training and should be issued with PPE appropriate to their role. As PPE is normally worn for many duties across the NHS, the correct use and disposal of gloves, gowns and masks, as well as frequent and efficient hand washing, are an everyday reality of working in healthcare.

Although there are additional Standard Infection Prevention Control Precautions during the pandemic, these should be communicated clearly to students as an extension of the essential hygiene principles they would be expected to uphold irrespective of COVID-19.

Students should be expected to maintain PPE appropriate to the COVID-19 risk level of their working environment. More information for employers on how to make their workplace safer can be found on GOV.UK.

Can we host anyone under 18 on placement?

Industry placements are different to standard work experience and can be open in the NHS to anyone over the age of 16. The student should complete occupationally specific tasks relevant to their course that will develop the technical skills and specialist knowledge to prepare them for the workplace.

Some trusts have their own guidelines for age appropriateness across individual roles, for example, 18+ in Maternity, Mental Health. These guidelines can be updated with the right senior approval to incorporate industry placements and legally allow access to students under 18.

Joining up with other trusts and local providers for strategic planning could help influence change based on demand. Working together will also make it easier to share stories of success and spread the word about how passionate industry placement students can bring new ideas and fresh energy to a team.

You may wish to discuss with line manager, mentor and industry placement student how to introduce the student to patient facing scenarios. There may be instances where older or vulnerable patients raise concerns about interacting with young people. Developing a shared approach ahead of time will help the student feel more confident and part of the team. There may be similar factors to consider when introducing young people into an established team. 

Many of our people are working from home, can we support a placement?

For non-clinical roles, social distancing may affect industry placements as offices limit staff admissions in line with COVID-19 safety measures. Staff may also be moving in and out of the workplace repeatedly, either due to a period of sickness absence, self-isolation, working from home or following a period of shielding.

If staff are rotating their presence in an office, they could share day to day supervision of the industry placement to ensure it’s possible for the student to complete their placement hours in person. This may be in line with a ‘cohorting’ or ‘bubble’ approach such as organising shift patterns so the same staff work together each shift, as far as is practicable, to reduce the number of people interacting, or avoiding peak public transport times.

What meaningful work can students do?

In order to prioritise COVID-19 response, some less complex work in Trusts may have been paused.

Rather than being an obstacle to hosting an industry placement as day to duties are shifted, this could provide a student with an opportunity to undertake some project work that may otherwise have been on the backburner or delayed. For example, students could undertake an infection control audit, or design a forward plan for when key project work like Cquin targets resume. 

How can we recruit a student openly and fairly during a pandemic?

Work with your partner school or college to get the most out of recruiting for a placement, despite COVID-19 restrictions. Many providers have the facilities to host virtual open day experiences or interview events that can help you connect to students with minimal risk.

Your provider will also be able to keep you informed of essential safeguarding considerations when interacting with students online. Partnering in this way ensures that all potential placement students have an equal opportunity access to the technology they need to make the most of any virtual interactions ahead of the placement. 

Lessons learned

Reflections from Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, who have delivered a successful industry placement pilot and are now inducting a new cohort of 3 clinical industry placement students.

Risk assessments

In order to deliver placements during the pandemic, we had to ensure additional risk assessments were completed. A risk assessment matrix and examples of COVID-19 risk assessments can be sourced through NHS Employers.

Pathways

This is another pathway to grow your workforce.

Parent/carer consent

It’s important to discuss the risks of COVID-19 with students, parents/ carers and provider’s staff ahead of the placement. We met together to talk through the situation and added a parent/ carer signature to the industry placement agreement document that is signed by student, provider and employer.

Placement workbook

We also developed a placement workbook with the college, which now includes COVID-19 related sections, for example, guidance on handwashing, PPE, masks and reminders not to work if you feel unwell.

Quality not quantity

Rather than progress with a large cohort of students from a relevant course, we chose to support a select number of enthusiastic and invested students. This has yielded a better-quality placement experience for us and the young people.

Separate placements

We separated the 3 clinical industry placements across different areas, ensuring staff in a team were only supporting one student at any time. This manages the pressure on supervising staff and gives the placement student a more realistic expectation of the daily duties in the team. 

What ifs

What if a student becomes ill whilst on placement?

Like any other member of staff, if a student develops symptoms of COVID-19, they should:

  • follow the latest stay at home guidance
  • while at home (off-duty), they should not attend work and notify their line manager immediately
  • while at work, they should put on a surgical face mask immediately, inform their line manager and return home
  • arrange, through the organisation, to have a test

What if a student tests positive for COVID-19?

Once they begin an industry placement carrying out ‘normal business practice’, students are covered as staff members under the Trust’s liability insurance, and should be treated as such, in line with standard NHS guidance. The latest guidance can be found on the NHS Employers site.

What if a student is absent with illness and misses their planned placement hours?

A student and their education provider would be expected to work with the industry placement line manager to organise another time for the student to return and complete the planned placement hours before the finishing their qualification. With the agreement of all parties, placement hours can be completed at weekends and outside of term time.

What if a member of staff supporting a placement is off sick?

That staff member’s industry placement responsibilities should be passed to another appropriate member of the team to fulfil, until they return to work. The education provider should be informed of the absence and the reason in line with your agreement with the provider.

What if a student is shielding or lives with/cares for a vulnerable relative?

Depending on national shielding guidance, a vulnerable student may be unable to start their placement as planned.

Work with your provider to stay in touch with the student, managing expectations and working towards a new start date. You may be able to suggest useful pre-placement activities the provider could complete with the student as part of their readiness training, or front load time consuming training like beginning The Care Certificate.

What if a student is given the opportunity to take up part time employment with us, for example on Bank?

If the part-time work is related to the student’s occupational specialism, at Level 3, part-time working hours can be counted towards industry placement hours.

As with all industry placements, students and employers will need to sign an industry placement agreement and agree appropriate learning goals that must be used to measure the students’ progress. In addition, the roles and responsibilities for providers and employers set out in government guidance will still apply.

What happens if a ward the student is working on becomes ‘hot’?

If an industry placement environment becomes unsafe, use your standard workplace transition procedure or checklist to manage their transfer to another workplace.

As part of preparing to host an industry placement, you should amend these documents to mention placement students and agree the process for consistency.

What if the placement is not going well?

Where students are not meeting any of the conditions set out in their industry placement agreement or where the you have concerns about their progress, you should contact the provider to agree a course of action.

Providers will be expected to take action to resolve any issues quickly and with full transparency, so students are clear about the necessary areas for improvement.

Acknowledgements

NHS Employers

The Strategic Development Network

Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust

Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Careers Hub

Yeovil District Hospital

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