Call for end to student placement crisis

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are urging the NHS to introduce a new 2-1 placement system for allied health professions (AHPs) students immediately to end a growing crisis.

At the moment placements are one student to one member of NHS staff but the researchers insist that making it two students to one staff member would address the shortage of placements available.

The ongoing shortage in practice-based learning placements in the NHS came to a head during COVID-19 when many were cancelled to focus on the pandemic and students were drafted onto the frontline to help out.

The 14 allied health professions include occupational therapists, dieticians, radiographers, paramedics and physiotherapists, working in hospitals, clinics, housing services, people’s homes, schools, and health centres. There are currently around 4500 AHP students in Scotland and placements account for a third of the education programme.

Academics at GCU’s School of Health and Life Sciences (SHLS) are calling on the NHS to replace the traditional 1-1 placement method to a minimum of two students to end the crisis or face a future shortage of qualified AHPs.

An editorial written by Professor Katrina Bannigan and Anita Volkert entitled ‘The time is now to upscale all placements to a minimum of two students’, has been published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy.

The piece concluded that “now is the time to implement a profession-wide approach to peer learning where a minimum of two students are involved in every placement. If we make this standard practice within the profession, we solve a long-standing problem overnight and ready our workforce for the future”.

Commenting on the current situation, Gail Nash, AHP Practice Education Programme Lead, NHS Education for Scotland, said: “We are working with AHP professions across Scotland to explore how peer-assisted learning and other models of placement delivery can support placement recovery post-COVID and at the same time modernise, diversify and create sustainable solutions to placement issues.”

Professor Bannigan, GCU Head of the Department of Occupational Therapy, Human Nutrition and Dietetics, said: “COVID-19 has brought the crisis to a head. During Covid, universities in partnership with practice were incredibly creative with simulation and online placements and it’s extremely valuable but it just isn’t enough.

“It isn’t solving the underlying problem of supply and demand. We just don’t have enough placements for the students that we’ve got. It’s a national, UK and worldwide problem. Implementing this 2-1 model overnight could solve the placement crisis so we need the NHS to buy into this now.

“We all have to acknowledge that it’s the numbers that are the problem and move out of this sense of inertia around this crisis. We don’t need any more research or training packages on the 2-1 module. It’s all ready to go and we just need to press the button.”

Anita, GCU Lecturer in Occupational Therapy and AHP Practice Placements Lead, acknowledged that bringing in a new system overnight could spark fears among staff that it would create extra work but there is evidence that it could actually reduce workload.

The piece states: “Whilst this model can sound like it would be twice as much work, the research evidence, and anecdotal reports, say that it can actually feel like less work than supervising one student. This is because this model uses a peer learning approach, rather than being two students working separately with an educator on a one to one model.

“Instead, students work together; they may have different skills sets from previous placements and life experiences which they can share and teach each other; they can offer each other informal support, and during any ‘down time’ that may crop up, they can spend time with each other.”

Professor Helen Gallagher, SHLS Vice-Dean, said: “Pressures on placement availability continue to increase nationally and even globally, not just for Occupational Therapy, but for all allied health disciplines.

“We welcome the work of our academics and clinical partners in seeking to effect changes to conventional thinking and traditional practices at a national level.

“For universities to meet the growing service demand for health and social care graduates, new and innovative models of supervision are required to be developed, evaluated and implemented to ensure our students continue to receive an excellent learning experience and are able to successfully progress through their programme and enter the workforce as safe, caring and fit for purpose professionals.”

NHS Education for Scotland added that a number of resources have been developed which can be found here https://learn.nes.nhs.scot/43715.

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