St Andrew’s Healthcare in Northamptonshire is celebrating 115 students graduating from its innovative ASPIRE programme to become mental health nurses.

ASPIRE enables Healthcare Assistants to combine their learning and experience and jump straight into the second year of the University of Northampton’s Mental Health or Learning Disability Nursing degree – completing a nursing degree in two years.

A St Andrew’s girl for life – how one nurse progressed from Healthcare Assistant to mental health nurse on an innovative training course

One successful student is Bukunola Popoola. Originally from Nigeria, Bukunola came to the UK in 2007 with her husband on a highly skilled migrant programme and she joined St Andrew’s Healthcare as a health care assistant and during this time she learnt about the ASPIRE programme.

Seeing it as a great opportunity to further her career, Bukunola completed a level four course and gained a certificate in mental health before embarking on the course.

During her training Bukunola had a crisis in her personal life and decided to stop the course completely but the staff at St Andrew’s Healthcare were very supportive and told her to come back when she was ready, which she did.

Bukunola said: “St Andrew’s Healthcare couldn’t have been more supportive and flexible. I was so pleased to restart the ASPIRE programme – it’s an amazing course because you are financially supported when studying. I was 46-years-old and an international student which meant I wasn’t eligible for student finance but the fact I was still able to work and study made it possible for me.

“This has been a very positive journey for me. Becoming a nurse has enabled me to make better contributions to patients’ recovery journeys.  I am full of gratitude for the opportunity to be part of ASPIRE and for the fantastic support I received from staff throughout the course. They have an open door policy and there is always someone to talk to.  I am proud to be a nurse at St Andrew’s Healthcare which I love. I am a St Andrew’s girl for life!”

Shortage of Mental Health Nurses preventing adequate care for millions worldwide

A recent report from the World Health Organization[i] (WHO) highlighted that a global shortage of mental health nurses was preventing adequate care for millions of people around the world whose mental health was hit by the pandemic. In England the mental health nursing workforce has by declined 10 per cent since May 2010[ii].

St Andrew’s Healthcare is addressing this through the ASPIRE programme which is enabling them to boost their staff numbers and give Healthcare Assistants like Bukunola a unique opportunity to realise their career ambitions. The programme is a huge success with 115 nurses having now qualified and working back at St Andrew’s Healthcare.

Emma Swain, Programme Lead and Senior Lecturer at St Andrew’s Healthcare said: “Even though, individually all the students going through the ASPIRE programme all have different qualities, they all have the same drive and ambition. The last two years with the pandemic tested everyone’s resilience, but each student rose to the challenge, worked hard and are now qualified. We’re proud of all of them and look forward to watching their careers blossom as registered nurses.”

St Andrew’s Healthcare is part of the ‘Best of Both Worlds’ recruitment campaign. This brings together the University of Northampton (UON), Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHFT), Northampton General Hospital (NGH), Kettering General Hospital (KGH), St Andrew’s Healthcare and Northants GP. The aim of the programme is to recruit nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals to live and work in Northamptonshire.