An innovative approach to developing and retaining Clinical Support Workers | Latest updates

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An innovative approach to developing and retaining Clinical Support Workers

A ground-breaking programme to develop, nurture and retain Clinical Support Workers is having a significant impact at mental health and community Trusts in the East Midlands.

Across the East Midlands Alliance there have been issues with the recruitment and retention of Clinical Support Workers (those working in salary bands 2-4), so a collective approach was taken to establish a unique retention programme with an external provider that would improve engagement with support workers and develop a common best practice Competency Framework.

A pilot programme was launched in April 2022 using an innovative approach designed to make participants feel valued and empowered, while maximising their engagement and minimising the demand on their time, and therefore the impact on their work schedules and personal lives.

What was the challenge?

Front line teams with Clinical Support Workers (CSWs) have historically experienced very high turnover rates in trusts across the country, and the issue is no different in the East Midlands.  In 2021 the Alliance accepted funding from Health Education England to support the development of the Clinical Support Worker role in Mental Health settings.

The aims of the funding included improving retention of CSWs by providing development support and encouraging a longer-term career path for them, and so the Alliance engaged an external provider called Talent for Care to develop and run the retention support programme, as well create a new value-based Competency Framework.

Research by Talent for Care revealed that personal factors, such as insufficient communication skills, lack of resilience, and lack of motivation, contribute to frontline healthcare workers leaving their jobs. It also revealed that investing in the personal development of front-line staff is one of the most effective actions to maximise retention – more effective than maximising pay within limits of affordability.

The Covid-19 pandemic significantly increased the pressure on an already exhausted workforce, suggesting that urgent and innovative thinking was required to reverse the staff turnover trend, and so the ambition for the Alliance, Health Education England, and Talent for Care was to invest in Clinical Support Workers’ engagement, wellbeing, and personal and professional development to transform staff retention.

What has been happening?

A pilot programme of three cohorts featuring 39 Community Support Workers called Developing Healthcare Talent launched in April 2022 by Talent for Care.

The programme lasted 14 weeks, and it was delivered virtually via Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp for time-constrained, under-pressure frontline CSWs, from any background, department and level of experience.

The key innovative features of the programme included:

  • Mixed cohorts of up to 20 participants to share experiences across the different Trusts
  • All participants were given Practice Partners to share the journey and provide peer support 
  • A safe space for everyone to open-up, listen, contribute and enjoy
  • A sense of community, supported by private social media groups, to inspire and engage
  • Experienced program leaders delivering the online sessions 
  • A CPD certificate of completion, leading to more opportunities for professional and career development


The program leads participants, with minimal demand on their time, to establish a new set of skills, a fresh mindset and an accompanying set of innovative practices that are proactive, rather than simply responding to circumstances.

What were the outcomes?

The benefits to participants, their peers and their communities are long lasting, well beyond the participation in the program, however the immediate KPIs and survey responses from participants revealed a positive experience.

Participants’ self-assessed abilities and practices, across 10 main dimensions, mostly improved or significantly improved, including:

Outcomes of the programme

It is too early yet to see the impact that the programme has had on retention numbers, however the KPIs around attendance show it’s a very effective way of engaging colleagues that are traditionally a very hard group to engage with due to their transient nature.

What has the feedback been like?

The first three Cohorts of the Developing Healthcare Talent received very positive feedback from participants with 88% of participants rating it 4 or 5 out of 5, and almost unanimously recommend the program to colleagues.

There is some great feedback provided directly from participants:

Quote from participants about impact of programme

Quote from participants about impact of programme

What does this mean for the future development of CSWs in healthcare settings?

Due to the success of the pilot programme, there have been further cohorts of CSWs, and by the end of 2023 between 250-300 colleagues will have progressed through it.

The programme is helping HR Directors from trusts in the Alliance to fill a learning and development gap that currently exists for those healthcare workers on bands 2-4, and a new value-based Competency Framework for CSWs has also been completed and shared across the Alliance.

This very collaborative approach has meant that the Alliance has got much better value from economies of scale, greater returns of investment through partnership working, and is more sustainable for the long term.

Alessandro Alagna, Director of Talent for Care, said: “What’s exciting about this programme is that we are offering more opportunities for these colleagues but in a less traditional way.

“This programme has really pushed the boundaries and made the CSWs feel valued and empowered, and ultimately they will hopefully stay longer in their roles. But even if they do leave, the skills they have learnt are transferable across the Alliance, so that this innovative approach can also have longer term benefits beyond one role.”

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