E-learning NHS: The significant seven

When seven NHS trusts decided they wanted to share mental health care courses and put them online it created quite a challenge. How was it met?

Meeting the needs of one client can be difficult enough but when there are seven to answer to in the same project, you know you’ve got your work cut out. This was the challenge faced by the learning provider charged with creating a set of three mental health care courses for seven NHS trusts across the South East.

Collaborative approach

A number of factors brought about the multi-trust project. First, chief executives from the trusts, which include Berkshire Healthcare, Surrey and Borders Partnership, Hampshire Partnership and Isle of Wight Mental Health Service Trust, decided to explore ways in which they could collaborate on learning and development and deliver it in a standard and consistent way. There was also a move to start delivering mandatory training through e-learning.

Mark Limber, an independent programme director specialising in healthcare and a director of leadership consultancy CMA Associates, says a need was identified for a range of modular mental health learning materials to be produced and it seemed an ideal collaborative project for the trusts to embark on. Also, money would be made available for the courses from the Care Services Improvement Partnership.

“While the courses themselves aren’t mandatory, some of the content does form part of a mandatory programme,” says Limber, who was project manager and tasked with representing the seven trusts and who has done other e-learning work with the NHS. “For example, the Care Programme Approach (CPA) course relates to compliance with the Mental Health Act.”

E-learning route

The courses had a potential audience of 16,000 learners, with topics aimed at mental health staff across the trusts. The learning needed to have minimum impact on the daily business of staff and maximum saving on training time so e-learning seemed the best option, says Limber. “E-learning is only really cost-effective when rolled out to a lot of people and this project seemed a good one [for the seven trusts] to kick off with.”

Following a six-month period of scoping and appraising the options, Limber and those involved in the project went to tender and the job was won by blended learning provider Redtray. It worked alongside subject matter experts – a mixture of those from learning and development departments and clinical staff within trusts – to create the three courses: Managing Risk, Delivering CPA and Delivering Equality.

By far the biggest challenge, says Patrick Coates, Redtray business development director, was that although there are many similarities between them, all trusts are autonomous and work slightly differently.

He says: “We had to create something which would make it easy to incorporate local practices and procedures and also provide some localisation options in terms of trust logos and overall look and feel of the e-learning.”

This was achieved by building a localisation engine. By using templates, learners could be directed to trust-specific documentation on their intranet. “The localisation was something the trusts could do themselves, without intervention from Redtray,” says Coates.

Use of case studies

Redtray’s designers brought the text-based content to life by using real case studies in a mental health context, which asked the learner questions about what they would do in such a situation.

“Our job was to make it an engaging learning experience for everyone,” says Coates. “We also had to make sure it would engage with people whose first language is not English, so there are a lot of graphics and images.”

Other practical issues were to ensure the course was accessible to visually impaired people, which it did by allowing users to alter the font size easily, and that the language used was set at the right level. The provider also had to make sure that the courses could run on the different learning management systems used by the trusts.

The courses are in bite-sized pieces, and last between 30 minutes to one hour and 10 minutes. The modules have now been rolled out across all the trusts.

Nicola Carter, L&D co-ordinator at the Surrey and Boarders Partnership, says it is rare to find “mental health-specific” e-learning. “I’m particularly keen to get the training to people who usually miss traditional classroom sessions, such as part-time workers and night staff.”

Limber says they are allowing a three-month “bedding down” period before assessing the benefits of the training but the project appears to signal the beginning of formal partnerships between mental health trusts in the South East.

Such partnerships potentially deliver huge economies of scale so for a disparate organisation such as the NHS, the combination of joint working and e-learning has to be good news for all concerned.

The three courses

  • Managing Risk encompasses the various applications of risk management within healthcare, including business, clinical and employment related – such as health and safety – issues. This addresses knowledge gaps rather that skill acquisition.
  • Delivering Care Programme Approach (CPA is a formal process of assessing the needs of people with severe mental health problems). It aims to develop knowledge and skills about the process and principles of the CPA and helps individuals understand the CPA framework.
  • Delivering Equality is aimed at all members of the workforce (medical and non-medical) and focuses on ensuring equality. It looks at the needs of those working in corporate functions such as HR, communications and finance, and clerical and managerial staff.

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