High quality care requires high quality professionals! Dr Joanne Fitzpatrick explains how the Older Persons Fellowship is helping to create a high quality workforce throughout the care sector.
We must do more to help older people living with complex needs, to maximise their independence, their decision making, their community interactions, and to make sure they can get the right care and support irrespective of setting, service, and circumstance.
Getting the best outcomes, however, is not without its challenges. Challenges include how older people are viewed by society; how caring for older people professionally is regarded; financial and operational challenges that our health and social care systems work under; and the challenges associated with creating and sustaining a workforce that has the right values, skills and knowledge.
The key to improving older people’s care is knowing how to build a high-quality workforce. This means hiring staff that are able to deliver safe and high quality care by innovating, leading, inspiring others, and by valuing the voice of older people. The first step is to prioritise workforce recruitment and retention, with particular attention paid to finding people who are passionate about person- and relational- centred care as well as building and strengthening leadership skills.
Helping achieve a quality workforce is the Older Persons Fellowship, an innovative programme for specialist nurses and allied health professionals who work in a range of sectors, services and settings in England to care for older people. The Older Persons Fellowship was inaugurated by Health Education England in 2014 and is delivered by King’s College London in the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care. To date, over 150 senior nurses and allied health professionals have been recruited to the Older Persons Fellowship.
The key hallmarks of the Older Persons Fellowship are innovation and ambition to support expert nurses and allied health professionals to reach their full potential as expert thinkers and practitioners, skilled collaborators, influential role models and leaders. This is achieved at King’s College London, where they learn from experts from a range of disciplines from our health partners and collaborating organisations. The nurses and health professionals also learn from each other, by building important communities and networks that can be sustained beyond completion of the Fellowship.
The impact of the Older Persons Fellowship for Fellows and the development and quality improvement of healthcare services for older people is being evaluated in a mixed methods study. This includes a longitudinal survey and focus groups with Fellows as well as a longitudinal survey with managers and colleagues. The focus groups explored Fellows’ visions for older people care, motivations and experiences of the Fellowship, and views about its impact for professional development and for older people care and services. This data will then be analysed thematically. So far, three interrelated and interdependent themes have emerged from our research: building confidence through knowledge and skills, a like-minded network to influence care and services, and recognition of expertise.
The Fellowship enables Fellows to develop further their expert knowledge and skills, to influence and support people in their organisations, to share knowledge and skills, to develop further as leaders: “I think for older people’s care it’s very much this multidisciplinary team (MDT) approach and it’s being exposed to that. So, having the course and the knowledge and what’s learnt within the course enables us to share that within the wider MDT but actually gives us the skills to be able to develop local services and support local change.”
A like-minded network to influence care and services entails networking with colleagues nationally, sharing with professionals from other disciplines which helps Fellows to reshape their work philosophy and think about older people care beyond their role and organisation, and listening to experts in the field. “It draws people together, it allows a greater sharing of knowledge and a sharing of ideas. Yes, that peer review and that sharing of these really experienced clinicians that you wouldn’t necessarily have that access to.”
Recognition of expertise in older people care is pivotal to Fellows influencing and transforming care and includes gaining credibility, increased recognition by senior managers and colleagues, and career promotion. “Since I started this course there’s been a frailty strategy group developed within my Trust, and I was asked to take the lead.. and I think they’ve kind of recognised the skills in looking after older people.”
The Older Persons Fellowship develops a critical mass of nurses and allied health professionals who are expert thinkers and practitioners, skilled collaborators, and influential role models and leaders. To help ensure that the voice of older people is heard and acted upon meaningfully, we need a long-term strategy that commits to the ongoing development, support, and appreciation of a workforce of nurses and allied health professionals who are working to lead, transform and sustain quality services for older people care.