Developing your support workforce

Girl and woman with leaflet

More than a third of the NHS’s workforce is made up of support workers in band 1-4 roles. This part of the workforce provides a significant proportion of face-to-face patient care. Developing a rich mix of skills within the support workforce can deliver many benefits to your organisation.

Benefits to developing your support workforce

A strategic and organisational approach to developing the roles of support workers is needed to ensure sustainability in workforce supply, and has many benefits:

  • Investing in staff and valuing their contribution to the organisation directly correlates to improved staff morale and improved outcomes for patients.
  • It supports you to increase the talent pipeline for your nursing workforce, by offering an opportunity to make the most of current and emerging talent.
  • The support workforce will mostly be from your local community. Recruiting from your local community can be hugely beneficial in building a committed and invested workforce which creates a development pipeline and improves retention. 
  • It provides better management of skills shortages which aids recruitment and retention.
  • A mix of skills in multi-disciplinary teams will provide flexibility to meet the changing needs of patients.
  • It can aid retention and encourage career progression within healthcare professions, demonstrating your commitment to the widening participation agenda and to recruiting and retaining skilled and committed staff. You are more likely to have a workforce that reflects the local community you serve.

Options for developing your support workforce

There are many ways in which you can develop your new and existing support workforce. This may be through training and development to grow skills, knowledge and confidence within current roles, or through education and training to progress to the next role/along the career pathway, for example through use of apprenticeships.

Some NHS organisations have used the following models to develop their support workforce and grow the talent pipeline.

  • Functional skills for aspiring nursing associates 
    Health Education England has created a functional skills toolkit for employers to help their aspiring nursing associates to improve their English and Maths. The toolkit was developed for employers wishing to support those learners who have the caring skills and abilities but do not meet the entry requirements for training programmes that lead to a registered role. These qualification gaps were realised by employers who wanted to introduce the nursing associate role as a way of developing their support staff but found that many did not have the functional skills Level 2 in Maths and English that the majority of education providers ask for. The toolkit enables employers to assess and understand current learning levels of their workforce and signpost them to the most appropriate resources to meet their individual learning needs. These include information on free-to-access websites, printable worksheets and factsheets, online games, videos and quizzes all designed to be used in a classroom setting or by learners at home. You can access and download the toolkit via the HASO website (PDF).
  • Nursing associates and assistant practitioners
    The assistant practitioner and nursing associate roles have gained prominence recently as a flexible way to deliver care within a variety of settings. Assistant practitioners and nursing associates have knowledge and skills beyond that of a traditional healthcare assistant and deliver work that may previously have been within the remit of a nurse or physiotherapist. They can assist with recruitment and retention of the healthcare workforce when embedded as part of a clear career pathway. Find out more and read about trusts who have used these models in our nursing associate and assistant practitioner pages.
  • Apprenticeships
    Apprenticeships are already used widely within the health sector; with over 20 healthcare specific apprenticeships standards available and many more in development, including higher level apprenticeships. These can be used to develop solutions to skill shortages or recruitment difficulties by recruiting roles around key areas of need. Potential apprentices can be developed internally with current staff or externally. Find out more, and read case studies on our apprenticeships pages.

Training programmes

There are several training programmes available to help with developing your support workforce also, including:

  • Skills for Health bridging programme
    The bridging programme offers an alternative route into university for the support workforce in England and takes around 12-20 weeks to complete. The programme is designed to help learners to develop the skills they need to progress and succeed in health profession programmes and apprenticeships at higher education institutions. Funding may be available to support learners on this programme. Find out more about the Skills for Health bridging programme.
  • National Numeracy Challenge
    The National Numeracy charity offers a free National Numeracy Challenge to support individuals to improve their everyday maths skills. It is a confidential, easy to use website, designed to assess and improve users’ everyday maths skills in manageable steps, while building their self-confidence along the way. Find out more about the Challenge and how your staff can take the check up on the National Numeracy website.

Further reading

A national strategic framework to develop the healthcare support workforce.

Nurse and scanner

Assistant practitioners

Find out how you can develop assistant practitioner roles in your trust and how other employers have used them in their organisations.

Related News

Inspire, attract and recruit toolkit updated

Our Inspire, attract and recruit toolkit has been updated for 2020, with changes made to bring it up to date with current developments and links added to new resources.

View article

Immigration health surcharge to rise in October following budget announcement

The immigration health surcharge is set to increase from £400 to £624 per year following today's (11 March) budget announcement.

View article

Why Register?

Great reasons to register with NHS Employers

  • A personalised website
    Manage your profile and select topics of interest to you
  • Access your dashboard
    Bookmark useful content to help you quickly find what you're looking for
  • Get involved
    Contribute to our Talking Points discussions, comment on and rate our webpages
  • Keep up to date
    Receive the latest newsletters and media summaries

Log In