Going beyond COVID-19; Preparing for crises and change with Leading Healthcare Providers Skillnet

Dec 17th, 2020

L-R; Tadhg Daly, Chief Executive Nursing Homes Ireland, Minister Simon Harris and Carmel Kelly, Leading Healthcare Providers Skillnet Network Manager

The Postgraduate Certificate in Infection Prevention and Control designed by Leading Healthcare Providers (LHP) Skillnet in collaboration with University College Cork’s (UCC) School of Public Health, funded through Skillnet Ireland, supported the private healthcare sector at a crucial time this year. Launched earlier this year, the programme is equipping frontline healthcare professionals in the sector with the skills needed to implement progressive infection prevention and control strategies. Building up the expertise and skills of staff working in the sector has given a greater sense of confidence to care staff, residents, family members and the general public.

Prior to the pandemic, the LHP Skillnet Steering Group had discussed developing expertise in the area of infection prevention and control, however the programme formation was accelerated to counter the impact of COVID-19 on the sector. We spoke with Carmel Kelly, LHP Skillnet Network Manager, and Margaret Wafer, Director of Nursing at Belmont House and LHP Skillnet Steering Group member, to learn more about the impact of the programme on the ground so far and the future direction of learning and development in the sector.


No geographic barrier

A key factor to the success of the Postgraduate Certificate in Infection Prevention and Control programme has been its online delivery, with twenty counties nationwide being represented by the 47 programme participants. The programme is available to participants across the entire country, removing access barriers and meaning everyone can acquire the same level of training. This is something Carmel has strived for since she started working with the Skillnet Business Network nearly four years ago and outlines;

It was a goal of LHP Skillnet to take the geographic barrier out of it, we wanted every private healthcare provider to be able to access our services. The online delivery format has really helped with that. Across our range of programmes, we have seen engagement from Kerry, Donegal, Monaghan, and Offaly – places we never had businesses participating from before. It’s been a huge benefit to us”.

Another benefit of breaking down the geographic barrier is that programme participants can learn from a wider group of likeminded people working in the same sector on the same issues albeit from different locations. Once Margaret and others participating on the new programme got used to the online programme delivery environment, they all really embraced it.

“It’s nice to have a network of people from around the country. Aside from the formal learning supports, I’ve benefitted from hearing about the different experiences of other people in the private nursing home sector and learning how they have responded to challenges. It’s been invaluable, we are learning all the time. Particularly in the current climate, I think the programme couldn’t have come at a better time”.


The future of learning

In the future people may remember that 2020 was the year that forever marked a turning point in how people communicated. In particular the world of online learning has been dramatically changed, with a sharp rise in education technology usage across the board. This move online has meant that training providers and students alike had to learn to adapt in an impromptu manner, learning and failing quickly and collaborating on the best methods. Carmel believes this think-fast approach has made training providers more creative in their approach to content delivery.

“The crisis had catapulted us five or ten years ahead in terms of our approach to online learning. From a training providers perspective, they really had to up their game and make their online learning more appealing and interactive to participants. It’s been a two-way progression. The user getting used to the technology, but also the requirement for the providers to be more creative with their online delivery”.

Self-paced learning blended with a structured format seems to be the winning formula for learning and development in the current climate. This works particularly well for those like Margaret who are upskilling whilst working full-time.

“Once we got into the swing of online learning, we got on with it and it’s become second nature. The programme works around your life, you don’t have to be going to a lecture at certain time, you can build it into your daily schedule. This is great for people who are really busy”.


Preparedness is key for the future

Being prepared for future challenges and crises has been a key development area for the sector. Carmel believes the standard of infection prevention and practices has been raised and there is a greater recognition that nursing homes are an essential part of the healthcare system.

LHP Skillnet will help the sector develop its management capabilities further in the future, focusing on areas such as crisis management, change management and people management. Carmel believes developing expertise in these areas along with supporting areas of expertise such as end of life care, and other areas where there are knowledge and skills gaps, will help manage future challenges.

“When COVID-19 hit, nobody in the world knew anything about it, and that was the scariest things for this group of professionals, the unknown quantity that it was. Developing expert knowledge in how to prevent a disease such as COVID-19 spreading gives a sense of control”.

We have a rapidly growing older population in Ireland so inevitably we will see a growth in the number of nursing homes. By 2030 there will be a two-and-a-half-fold increase in the number of people who have dementia, and the area of dementia care will increase as a result. Training and upskilling through specialist programmes will help nursing home staff give the best care possible to residents.


The benefits of the Network approach

The benefits of joining a Skillnet Business Network like LHP Skillnet is invaluable to a family run organisation such as Belmont House. Margaret believes the training needs analysis they do with LHP Skillnet at the start of the year keeps them on track and organised for the year ahead.

At the beginning of the year we conduct a training needs analysis to figure out what skill needs we have for the year ahead. Leading Healthcare Providers Skillnet have just made the process so much easier; we collaborate with them, establish our needs, and they organise it all. It means your training schedule for the year is fully mapped out. On top of that, they are really organised and the value for money is fantastic as well”.

Carmel has seen the LHP Skillnet network grow over the past four years and believes more collaboration within the sector in identifying knowledge and skills gaps will result in more of the necessary programmes with higher education institutes like UCC coming online.

Staff retention and having access to inhouse expertise are just some of the benefits that an organisation will see by providing training and upskilling to staff. Ultimately, professional development should be part of any organisations people development plan to ensure future challenges are overcome.


About Leading Healthcare Providers Skillnet

LHP Skillnet provides training for businesses in the private healthcare sector. Visit the LHP Skillnet website to learn more about how they help address the workforce development needs of the sector.

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