04th June 2015 Written by Finbar Lillis, Project Lead, Bridging Programme

Image: Bridging programme.FINBAR LILLIS is a Skills for Health Associate who worked on the design and development of the Skills for Health Bridging Programme - and continues his work on implementation in 15-16. You can contact Finbar at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

You can read more about the design of the Bridging Programme, progress to date and plans for 2015-16 in Crossing the Bridge , the progress report from Skills for Health published this month.

The report tells you who we work with, how the Bridging Programme was designed and implemented and what our plans are for 2015-16. If you want to get involved, get in touch. The online guide tells you how.

Many rivers to cross…

‘Good hospitals and care homes are now unable to promote some of their best assistants into nursing. This is a waste of talent which must be overcome by urgently developing new bridging programmes.’1

Behind this frank statement made in the Cavendish Review in 2014, was a widely acknowledged fact, that while many healthcare (and social care) workers are motivated and capable vocational learners, too few of them have had the opportunity to progress to higher level professional education programmes in university.

A series of reports published between 2012 and 2014 - and most recently, Shaping Care in March 2015 - said that action must be taken to bring experienced and capable workers in healthcare and social care into the health professional workforce – particularly into nursing.

So there has been no shortage of calls to action.

The Bridging Programme develops the study skills that learners need to progress and succeed in health professional education programmes, at universities in England. The Bridging Programme integrates study skills learning and assessment into vocational learning programmes offered at level 3, inside and outside Apprenticeships.

The aim of the Skills for Health Bridging Programme is to establish an entitlement for healthcare support workers, to have their learning achievements recognised as valid for meeting entry requirements to pre-registration nursing and other health professional education programmes at university.

By the autumn of 2015 the Skills for Health Bridging Programme was out and ready for use and by March 2015, over 200 employers had expressed interest in or had started forming partnerships to use it– many attending Skills for Health webinars or reading about the Bridging Programme online. Feedback has told us that the online guide is invaluable as a source of information for potential partners.

First you build your bridge…

Getting support for the Bridging Programme idea was not so difficult – there was much enthusiasm, even near excitement, from those we needed to get on side. But people in key organisations (they know who they are) provided access to their expertise and gave us positive critical feedback on a range of technical and practical details - as well as bringing their ideas to the grand plan. There was much to do (and swiftly) but we designed and built a robust qualification, an architecture for study skills learning and assessment at work in healthcare, by the end of the summer 2014. Skills for Health designed a set of parameters and requirements for employers, universities, FE providers, and awarding organisations to sign up to and work within. These parameters give partners scope to incorporate the Bridging Programme into what they do already but are strong enough to guarantee a level of consistency – essential for the transferability of learning (on all sides) across England - and to assure the quality of the Bridging Programme and build up trust among universities in the programme. We want to learn from how the Bridging Programme is used and to share that – and perhaps make adaptations to the Programme if needed.

The qualification - the level 3 Certificate in Bridging Skills for Higher Education - now has 70 UCAS points which is excellent for a qualification of its size – to make a comparison, an A* grade A level is worth 140 UCAS points and is three times the size…you do the maths, as they say.

Initial supporters included many healthcare employers, Health Education England, the Council of Deans of Health, individual universities, awarding organisations and trades unions. Their enthusiastic support for the programme has helped enormously and now alongside others on our Reference Group they continue to provide insights and advice from many perspectives, essential to the Bridging Programme’s success.

Though we made swift progress on design, we did not cut corners. It was important for partners to trust the quality and validity of the Bridging Programme from the outset.

I would say this is one of the most rewarding pieces of work I have ever been involved with. The year to come will be no doubt, as rewarding as the last.

Spreading the word

We talked to healthcare employers from the outset. They are in the best position to identify who would benefit from the Bridging Programme after all. We offered four open webinars from November 2014 - January 2015 which proved a success, reaching almost 300 participants across England with 98% healthcare employer participation. Almost all healthcare employers were able to grasp the potential of the Bridging Programme during these sessions, which was great to see - many being ready to press ahead straight away. As partnerships began to form we started to map these in readiness for our programme of support and development of Bridging Programme partnerships in 2015-16.

Crossing the bridge…

You can read about our plans here – and from these you will see we will be concentrating on getting Bridging Programme partnerships in place, offering advice and support, problem solving and coming up with ideas to help make it work. We will run webinars and give telephone advice and some face to face support. Leadership must however come from partnerships themselves – from healthcare employers.

What else might be in the way?

Those of us experienced in building bridges, breaking down barriers and all the other metaphors that really tell you that access to learning can be unequal, know there is more to making the Bridging Programme work than simply building it and putting it in place.

Implementers of the Bridging Programme will inevitably encounter the many other known obstacles to progression for the healthcare support workforce (besides the lack of study skills and poor recognition of the value of healthcare learning at work) that are so consistently identified in reports. Our interest will be in seeing how Bridging Programme partnerships overcome these – or do not – and connecting to other initiatives, under the Talent for Care strategy, for example, to ensure partnerships benefit from the investment of resource and efforts intended to help. Ours is an action programme and proof of it success will be in changing culture and practice in combining vocational and study skills learning in healthcare and social care to secure clear progression into professional health education programmes at university.

We have built the bridge; now we have to help healthcare workers to cross it…

To be kept informed about the Bridging Programme - including invites to free webinars - register here.


1. Cavendish C (2013) The Cavendish Review - An Independent Review into Healthcare Assistants and Support Workers in the NHS and social care settings.