In July of this year, St Andrew’s Healthcare in Northampton announced that they were extending a variation of their hugely successful ASPIRE Programme, which enabled healthcare assistants to fast-track to the second year of a nursing degree.

What is the new scholarship initiative?

The new ASPIRE Nursing scholarship initiative will help people who are interested in a nursing career in specialist mental health and learning disability care, but who might not have the financial support or qualifications needed, to find their way to a career in nursing.

The programme will last three and a half years, with 10 scholarship places available. Aimed at 18-24-year-olds, each successful candidate will be provided with £9,000 worth of education equivalent, paid employment for 18 months with the opportunity to work in clinical settings as well as a £18,000 per year financial support grant.

Once the programme is over, they will gain their BSc (Hons) degree and have a guaranteed staff nurse position at St Andrew’s Healthcare with excellent career development and progression opportunities.

The structure of the programme means that those who haven’t previously acquired A-level grades (candidates only need to have a good GSCE grade in maths and English) or equivalent to give them access to University courses, are able to complete a Certificate in Higher Education during their first year; enabling them to then transition into a second year of a nursing degree in either mental health or learning disability nursing.

Applications have since closed on 15th August. However, St Andrew’s Healthcare have now released a series of case studies that exemplify the success possible from the ASPIRE programme that these new scholarships are based on.

Ged Rogers, Clinical Education Manager at St Andrew’s, said:

“This is an amazing opportunity for young people to start a career in mental health or learning disability nursing with a leading mental health charity that offers high-quality holistic services within outstanding facilities...Mental health and learning disability nursing are growing areas within healthcare with great career opportunities. We are looking for the talented nurses of the future to bring compassion and enthusiasm and become part of our healthcare teams, delivering brilliant care and helping transform the lives of our patients"

Simon’s story

In the first of three case studies on the amazing nurses who completed the ASPIRE programme we are going to cover, we discuss Simon Austin and his ‘Builder to qualified mental health nurse’ story.

Simon Austin, now 44-years-old, began his career with St Andrew’s Healthcare in 2000 as a healthcare assistant. The change in career came after he experienced an accident, preventing him from continuing his job as a builder (a job he’d been doing since leaving school). After a chance encounter with someone in a nightclub, Simon decided to pursue a career as a healthcare worker.

In Simon’s own words: “It was a bit of gamble. I needed to find a job, and someone suggested I tried healthcare. I thought why not and joined St Andrew’s Healthcare as a healthcare assistant. Although I struggled initially and wasn’t sure it was for me, I soon settled in and was supported with training, and I found I gained in confidence.”

Shortly after joining St Andrew’s Healthcare, Simon completed level 3 and 4 mental health training courses, after taking a break from St Andrew’s and working at a brain injury clinic for seven years, and gaining a wealth of experience along the way, Simon returned in 2018.

After working as a senior healthcare practitioner for a time, Simon decided he wanted to become a qualified mental health nurse and took up a spot on the ASPIRE programme.

On returning to St Andrew’s Simon said: “it’s a great place to work. It has excellent facilities, and they are really focused on training and helping people progress. I didn’t intend on becoming a qualified nurse, however as I had done various training courses since working at St Andrews it built up my confidence academically and I decided to join the programme.”

A new way of achieving

One of the most valuable aspects of both the previous ASPIRE programme and the new ASPIRE Nursing scholarship initiative, is the financial support, giving many people, like Simon who might not normally have the opportunity to become a qualified nurse.

“I had been working since I was 16 and had commitments so needed to still have a monthly salary. As an older adult I wouldn’t have been able to fund the course myself, so it was a great opportunity for me. The financial support was a major factor in deciding to do the training. I was able to fit in paid shifts around university which really helped. The course has built up my confidence and given me a great deal of experience and knowledge of working with people with different mental health conditions. It’s enabled me to become better at what I do and help our patients more effectively.”

Now having completed the course, Simon will take up a guaranteed position as a qualified mental health nurse at St Andrews. Reflecting on his experience and on going back to education after a long time working, Simon commented: “It’s a long time since I was at school but the other courses, I did leading up with this helped me get back into academic study. They showed me that I could do it and I’m really pleased I decided to become a qualified nurse. It will enable me to make more of the decisions about people in my care and put what I’ve learnt into practice.”

“I’ll also be able to show more leadership and support other staff, which I’m keen to do; especially now I’ve learnt such a lot. It’s a fantastic course and I’d recommend it to anyone considering a nursing career in mental health.”

As we covered in our article on mental health related skills in the workplace, as well as mental health related job positions, this is an area of growing desirability – not to mention one that is in dire need of enthusiastic, dedicated and driven individuals such as Simon.

The traditional college to university to qualified nurse trajectory has excluded a whole host of people who might be the answer to the extra workforce so desperately needed in mental health and learning disability care. This scholarship initiative from St Andrew’s Healthcare shows that there are always alternatives – where the necessary funding is willingly given.