How to Support Professional Development in Health and Social Care

July 5, 2021
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The health and social care sector is under enormous pressure to deliver high-quality conscientious care at a time when it is being increasingly stretched and many posts remain unfilled. 

Whether you are thinking of moving into the industry or are already working within it, it is important to understand how continually developing your knowledge and skill set can enhance the quality of the care provided and allow for the growth and development of your career. Here, we will look at potential opportunities for continuing professional development in the health and social care sector, explain its importance and how to support it, along with looking at some of the barriers you may face.

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What is Continuing Professional Development in Healthcare?

Continuing professional development (CPD) is any activity that promotes learning and development and enhances a worker’s ability to practise safely and effectively. The purpose of professional development within the health and social care sector is to ensure the quality of care that patients and clients receive is of the highest standard. 

Those healthcare workers who require professional registration, such as registered nurses and doctors, will be required to undertake CPD as part of the registration renewal process. The professional or regulatory body will provide details on the standards that must be met, including how many hours of CPD must be undertaken, in what setting and how it must be recorded. The professional body will provide advice and support needed to enable CPD to be maintained.

Health and social care worker

Whilst it is the responsibility of the employee to ensure they successfully complete their CPD to remain registered, the employer has a responsibility for the safety of their employees’ practise. The British Dietetic Association (BDA) states “recipients of care have the right to access health and social care practitioners who possess up-to-date knowledge, skills and abilities.” Therefore,  it is in the best interests of the employer to provide opportunities of learning to all staff, regardless of professional registration, in order to meet the rights of those receiving care. 

The NHS has a Knowledge and Skills Framework (KSF) which is used to identify the skills required for enabling workers to provide safe and effective services for patients and their families. A personal development plan (PDP) is also created with the worker for any new learning that they may require to gain new skills or improve on existing ones. 

Continuous professional development may look different depending on your job role and work setting. The process of undertaking CPD by those holding professional registration may seem a more structured and mandatory process than to those such as home care workers, for example. They should, however, not neglect or be neglected when it comes to their own personal development plan. They should seek to be up-to-date with all necessary training and have the opportunity to widen their knowledge base and skill set. 

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Some CPD activities that can be used in health and social care include:

  • Observation through shadowing. 
  • Attending conferences.
  • Participating in workshops.
  • Reading around a certain subject.
  • Taking a role relevant course.
  • Mentoring a new colleague.
  • Access to training such as NVQs.
  • Work experience in other clinical areas.

Remember any activity that improves your work-related knowledge base and skill set can be viewed as professional development, so look out for those opportunities as and when they present themselves. 

A conference taking place

Why is CPD Important in Health and Social Care?

CPD contributes to providing high-quality care and services. This is very important in the health and social care sector as the quality of care being provided directly impacts on the wellbeing of the public. Investing in the professional development of a workforce benefits not only those utilising the service and their families but also the staff themselves and the organisation as a whole.

As a worker the benefits of undertaking CPD can improve chances of progression beyond your current role. With the continual changes within the industry, the expectations of staff increases. A multiskilled candidate with the most up-to-date knowledge is seen as a great asset. It may also keep staff motivated and focussed, preventing a feeling of stagnation in a role. 

For the organisation, providing opportunities for career progression and showing a keen interest in their employees’ need for learning and development can help improve recruitment and retention. Recognising and developing a worker’s skills and qualities goes a long way in creating a stable workforce with increased morale. 

For users of health and social care services, they not only have the right to safe and effective care but it also provides reassurance and comfort to know those caring for them are taking their duty of care seriously by ensuring the environment is safe and the organisation is working within legislative boundaries.

Health and social care workers talking to a service user

Barriers to Professional Development in Health and Social Care

When working within the demanding health and social care sector there can be barriers preventing staff effectively undertaking some CPD activities. Some of the barriers likely to be faced are:

  • Lack of time – not having the capacity to fit additional learning into the working day. 
  • Shortage of staff – staff shortages or high staff turnover can increase demands on everyone’s time.
  • Lack of  IT skills and resources – this can limit access to additional learning materials.
  • Shift patterns – this can make accessing learning more difficult, particularly for night shift workers.
  • Lack of funding – it may mean the budget simply isn’t there or the activity funding isn’t justified based on the current needs of a service.

How Can Healthcare Professionals Support Development?

Within each role, setting and employer, professional development may look a little different. For some it may be a requirement to practise and be supported by a professional body, there may be a structured guide to development needs – as with the NHS’s Knowledge and Skill Framework – or you may work for an independent organisation and feel it only touches on the topic of CPD during an annual appraisal, with little further action beyond your compulsory training. 

Whatever situation you find yourself in, it is important to remember that maintaining and improving your own knowledge base and skill set is something you can do at any time, outside of any planned CPD activities. 

If you feel a lack of structure around identifying your learning needs and ways to achieve your goals, a Personal Development Plan can be very useful. A PDP is something that should be agreed with your manager as a way of ensuring you get the support required, but even those who manage themselves in a health and social care role will find it helps to keep them  on top of necessary training. 

We have addressed some of the likely barriers to professional development; some of these barriers need to be addressed by employers whilst  others can be overcome by the workers themselves. Wanting to deliver the best care you can whilst giving yourself the best chance of career progression can help provide focus to remain inquisitive, use initiative and find different ways to navigate any barriers.

A man working on his laptop and taking notes

Possible ways to overcome some of these barriers are:

  • Lack of time – When there is not enough time to step away from the day to day activities to do additional learning, it may be possible to work on the job. Observe a colleague performing a task new to you, ask questions, or provide mentorship to new staff.
  • Shortage of staff – Ensuring an infrastructure is in place for providing opportunities for CPD and supporting career development will likely increase staff recruitment and retention.
  • Lack of  IT skills and resources – Employers can encourage the development of IT skills through additional training and aim to provide better access to IT resources, exploring funding options where necessary. The worker could also consider some independent learning to improve IT skills as it could be a useful skill for many areas of life.
  • Shift patterns – Aim to provide staff with flexible learning opportunities – open or distance learning resources may help provide more flexibility. 
  • Lack of funding – Funding issues can sometimes come from a higher source and can be difficult to overcome. However, it is important to remember the wealth of knowledge out there. Many resources can be utilised to aid  a worker’s learning and development needs and free training may be available. 

When you are busy with your day to day work, professional development can sometimes feel like it goes on the back burner. When barriers to development seem out of your control it can be difficult to recognise where changes can be made and how to implement them. Having an appointed Champion in Healthcare could be an excellent way to highlight any inefficiencies and areas of improvement regarding CPD. They can be a voice for change and bring focus to ensure all workers are being provided with the opportunities and resources needed to develop themselves and in turn improve the quality of service provided. 

Supporting professional development in health and social care plays a fundamental role in providing high-quality care and service. Through recognising, supporting and developing the skills of health and social care staff, a more stable and well-equipped workforce can emerge to deal with the demands within the industry.

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