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Primary Care Today – May 2012 ‘Trailblazing training achieves highest care standards’

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The Good Care Group has achieved best practice in training carers following the successful launch of its Health and Social Care Professional Apprenticeship scheme a year ago, writes Zoe Elkins, Head of Care.

Any organisation establishing a training programme for carers looking after elderly people must be sure to focus on delivering a programme that impacts on carers in a memorable way and makes a real difference to practice in the field. Overly enthusiastic providers who try to cram too much into too short a time (without clearly defined and measurable outcomes) may find they end up with an inefficient programme that doesn’t improve outcomes for clients.

Attempting to run an intensive, comprehensive training programme, there is a real danger that participants will quickly reach “information overload”, particularly if only a single teaching method is used.

Enthusiasm to cover subjects fully must be tempered with what is effective in achieving knowledge gain.

Striving to achieve best practice, rigorous training and its reinforcement allow The Good Care Group, which supports elderly individuals in their own homes, to constantly maintain the highest standards of care.

Our experience in establishing a training programme has highlighted the need to focus on five essential areas.

A robust pre-training selection process for staff must be in place – a huge amount of time and money can be wasted if people without core abilities and a basic understanding of the company’s values, and/or without empathy for those they will look after, are entered in the programme.
A variety of teaching styles must be utilised. Some learners will derive most benefit from sessions that draw on practical skills, while others will shine when immersed in theory and enabled to translate this into practice. When the teaching programme spans different styles, a balance of learning in a group is achieved, with interaction between members boosting the amount of information absorbed.
Training must be phased over weeks or months. A single induction course, a “front load” approach, can quickly push much information into the brains of learners, but a great deal of this is rapidly lost as carers start to grapple with the many issues that will inevitably present themselves in care placement, particularly home care.
Putting in place a dedicated training team within the organisation must be a high priority. Such a team will develop and run training programmes, accessing specialised teaching expertise as required. Through constantly monitoring feedback from participants in training, and the results they subsequently achieve in care practice, the dedicated team can refine teaching elements to further improve what is being delivered and to meet newly identified needs. Continuous review and development of the training strategy is paramount in achieving best practice and positive outcomes for learners.
Clarity is required when identifying and setting out the aims of the training programme. The objectives should cover care quality attainment and business advancement.
Every individual who wishes to become a professional carer with The Good Care Group must apply online. As well as assisting efficiency in the recruitment process, this tests candidates’ basic IT skills. Subsequent stages in the process are telephone interview, face-to-face interview, and participation in a selection day. Some 20 candidates are invited to each selection day which provides an introduction to The Good Care Group’s care and business philosophy, and the ‘can-do’ culture that is a theme running through the company. The day’s exercises reveal team working skills, communication skills, how pressure is coped with, problem-solving skills, conflict resolution abilities, presentation skills, initiative, and empathy. Personal qualities and values are evaluated, as well as care knowledge and skills.

We like to recruit people with a level of experience – and this can vary enormously. A candidate might be someone who has cared for a dependent loved one, or a person who has worked extensively in the professional care sector. The former will need more training and mentoring, but is likely to more easily moulded into exactly the type of professional carer required, whilst bringing a freshness to the caring role. The individual with experience in the professional care sector is likely to be confident and competent, but may have accumulated working practices that need to be modified and improved upon.

The age of training programme learners is generally irrelevant. The key quality the trainee carer must have is the ability to empathise with the individual for whom care is to be provided. Carers are usually drawn to their role because they recognise that they can use their experience, perhaps of being scared or lonely, to help others with similar feelings. Every elderly individual is different and caring for such individuals on a one-to-one basis means the care organisation needs to have personnel ranging from the outgoing ‘bubbly’ types to the mature individuals with a conservative, considered outlook.

Our training path, following on from the selection day stage, comprises a five-day residential course, 12 weeks of e-learning in the client placement, and subsequent further training to maintain and boost levels of skills. We employ our own dedicated trainers, complementing their provision with some outsourced expertise.

The Good Care Group’s training, and its reinforcement of training, combine a number of teaching and support methods so participants have the best opportunity for capturing and retaining information. The methods are classroom style instruction, including a focus on theory, face-to-face individual discussion, e-learning, mentoring and practical exercises.

A year after beginning employment with The Good Care Group, carers can apply for a place on The Good Care Group’s Health and Social Care Professional Apprenticeship scheme. Within this, there is knowledge building in dementia care provided by the Group in association with the teaching resources of Jackie Pool Associates, a leading UK specialist in dementia care.

Successfully completing the scheme, a carer gains a nationally-recognised Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) vocational qualification, a health and social care diploma and key skills certificates in literacy and numeracy, and may be offered an advanced course which is focused on dementia care and delivered by the Contented Dementia Trust, formerly known as SPECAL. The Contented Dementia Trust is a UK charity which has as its aim the promotion of lifelong wellbeing for the person with dementia.

About 200 carers, from a wide variety of backgrounds, have participated in the residential course and e-learning phase, and an initial pilot of carers has successfully completed the apprenticeship scheme.

The five-day residential training segment that starts our training programme covers first aid, medications, information technology, cookery, care delivery skills, and our own brand culture, policies, procedures, expectations and ways of working, as well as an introduction to understanding dementia and Parkinson’s disease. A wide range of skills are called for, but the training segments are designed for individuals to develop all these, following the residential training component, at their own pace. The Good Care Group sets out to nurture carers who have flexibility, practicality, common sense, life experience, and ‘heart’.

Feedback we have from many participants is that the fast-paced residential course training is the most stimulating they have ever experienced. A number of participants find the information technology segment of the residential programme challenging as it covers an area unfamiliar to them. We pay very careful attention to ensuring trainees are fully conversant with using the smart phones we issue to our carers. The phones are used to receive roster information, electronic payslips and operational updates. Furthermore, carers can phone, text and email their managers and each other without incurring any charge.

If participants have not been away from home on a residential course before they may find this a different, and challenging, experience. Some consider the nutritional element difficult, particularly if they have limited cooking experience, or if their own food is distinctly different, perhaps culturally, from individuals in their care.

At first, we ran our initial training phase over 10 days in the form of a non-residential course. This phase was so intensive that some participants dropped out half way through because of “overload”. It was clear we needed to overcome this situation, adjusting content and confining the phase to five days, backed up with the 12 week phased e-learning programme and on-site mentoring and support. There are distinct benefits of running the phase as a residential course – learners have no stress-inducing commuting to and from the course venue, they are able to bond with other participants, and there is plenty of opportunity to discuss, informally, course content which boosts the whole learning process.

The 12-week e-learning segment reinforces the residential course it follows. Covered in e-learning are subjects including health and safety, dealing with accidents, and infection control. Content of the e-learning stage is retained for carers to re-visit at any time.

Carers can demonstrate excellence through scoring highly in assessments covering knowledge of for instance medications and first aid in the initial residential training phase, and then gaining high scores in subsequent training exercises which reinforce what has already been learned and introduce additional information.

Mentoring is provided for carers by Care Delivery Managers and also by experienced Senior Professional Carers, the latter being in their own placements and offering informal support to carers out in the field.

Monitoring of every carer’s performance is continuous. The new carer is assessed after 30 days in a placement then performance is reviewed every three months as a minimum, with a full appraisal conducted annually. Formal feedback from each client is captured every six months although informal contact is maintained regularly. Those learners who go on to receive advanced training in caring for individuals suffering from dementia often find this instruction inspiring, and the trainees are eager to try out what they have learned.

However, when in a placement caring for a person with dementia, the difficulties of the task are likely to become quickly become evident and the support of a Care Delivery Manager is welcomed. Care Delivery Managers work in the background, monitoring how carers are performing and stepping in as necessary to suggest adjustments.

We find that many carers will need to change their perception of dementia which may make them believe that “nothing can be done” for a person with this condition. Carers need to embrace the idea that a person with dementia needs to be cared for in a way which achieves the best possible quality of life. The progression of dementia may be inevitable, but care of the highest standard will always be essential.

Among its services, The Good Care Group offers care to individuals who have Parkinson’s disease or who require a rehabilitation regime following a stroke. It also provides palliative care. For these three areas, the Group is to further increase specialised training.

More information about The Good Care Group is available at www.thegoodcaregroup.com

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