Learning and development

A survey of the mental health support workforce, carried out by King’s College London in 2021, tells us that they feel their job is rewarding but their career is frustrating.According to this survey, the majority of respondents felt they had sufficient training to competently carry out their job, but a third did not, and only half reported that the training they had recently completed helped them perform their job better (King's College London, 2021, pg. 35). Improved learning analysis and implementation could help to rectify this – see the day-to-day management section of this toolkit where it covers managing training and CPD activities.

The King’s College London survey also provides us with a list of competencies ranked by importance to the mental health support worker role by respondents and then whether they thought they had acquired sufficient training in that competence (see Table 3 below). This is helpful guidance on where priorities for training may lie.

Building on the mental health support workforce through learning and development

There are many opportunities to build on the mental health support workforce through learning and development. Find out more about qualifications such as the Care Certificate in the Induction section of this toolkit. When it comes to studying at university, it’s a complex area to navigate. A single course can have different entry requirements when offered by different Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) and a single HEI may have different entry requirements for the same course depending on how they deliver it (apprenticeship or traditional route). You can find out more about navigating this space in the Working with Higher Education Institutions section of the toolkit and search university courses leading to a range of clinical careers on the Health Careers course finder. There may be a variety of training providers available to you such as local further education colleges and training organisations, speak to your HR or L&D team for advice.

Further sources of information and resources can be found on the Healthcare support worker learning and development roadmap.

A number of resources for learning and development are provided below. We recommend you speak to your HR or Learning and Development team to understand what local policies are in place and uses the resources here to support what is already in place.


A survey of the mental health support workforce showed that over eight in ten respondents were aware of apprenticeships but just 1.9% had completed the Senior Healthcare Support worker standard, which includes a specific mental health support pathway (King's College London, 2021, pg. 2).

Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They can help develop clear career pathways, develop existing staff and recruit a diverse and representative workforce. All employers who have an annual pay bill of £3 million or more pay a fee called an ‘apprenticeship levy’. The levy funds are used to pay for apprenticeship training costs. We recommend visiting resources on apprenticeships on the NHS Employers website. See specifically the section: ‘Consider the following questions when developing your workforce plans’. In addition, the following resources may help you understand more about apprenticeships in mental health:

Apprenticeships: case studies

Initiatives from across the NHS

Online Learning

Lack of education, training and development opportunities contributes to poor quality care.

Council of Deans of Health, 2013, ‘Healthcare support workers in England: Five proposals for investing in education and development to deliver high quality, effective and compassionate care’ pg. 3

There are a range of learning and development resources that are easily accessible and mainly free to access. A selection of relevant resources is provided below that you can use to develop a training and development package for the mental health support workforce. Look at each of the resources to assess what is on offer and match to the needs of your staff.

Making a business case

There is no national continuing professional development funding for this staff group (Nuffield Trust, 2021, pg. 9). Trusts are responsible locally for CPD spending allocation. Appealing to your HR and Finance Directors will be key in ensuring the mental health support workforce are prioritised (see also the the ‘Manager’s checklist for reducing barriers to accessing CPD’ section of this toolkit).

The national Social Partnership Forum (SPF) brings together NHS Employers, NHS Trade Unions, Health Education England (HEE) and NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to discuss and debate the development and implementation of the workforce implications of policy. The Learning for Life toolkit, available directly from SPF, has some excellent examples and case studies to help form business cases. Key sections include:

Section 2: The Business Case and how to make it

Key points to support workplace learning include:

  1. Workplace learning improves patient safety
  2. Workplace learning helps engage staff and boost morale
  3. Learning and development budgets go further
  4. Workplace learning creates a culture of learning
  5. Workplace learning creates a workforce that attracts and retains the best and better reflects the local population
  6. Workplace learning delivers on staff pledges in the NHS Constitution

Section 4: How to overcome barriers

Key barriers outlined include:

  1. “No need for that here”
  2. Difficulties in reaching the key target groups
  3. Overcoming confidentiality issues
  4. Lack of internal training resources
  5. Lack of training facilities
  6. “We’re fulfilling our mandatory requirements”
  7. Sustainability
  8. ‘The squeezed middle’ of line managers

Framework examples

Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching and mentoring are important for succession planning and help give clarity and direction, which were signposted as issues for the mental health support workforce in the Nuffield Trust and King’s College London reports. There are a number of schemes available to support coaching and mentoring.

  • Find out more about coaching from the NHS Leadership Academy. Or consider alternatives such as:
  • The Stepping Up programme, aimed at black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) leaders and aspiring BAME leaders across healthcare working in bands 5 to 7 or equivalent. It’s been designed for individuals who have an interest in developing their leadership abilities and want to be involved in creating a transformational change in equality and diversity across the healthcare sector.
  • #LookingAfterYouToo aims to give you access to individually tailored coaching support that will focus on proactively supporting you, by providing opportunities to process experiences, develop coping skills, deal with difficult conversations, and develop strategies for self-management in difficult circumstances.
  • NHS Elect is a series of sessions with an experienced coach to achieve greater confidence and improved personal effectiveness. NHS Elect is a membership body – see if your Trust is a member.
  • Local coaching and mentoring is available from NHS Leadership. Find out more about what is on offer in your region.
  • A sponsor is someone who advocates for the person they are sponsoring (sponsee). They can talk to others about their sponsee’s strengths and potential, and help them get actively considered for development opportunities, promotion or lateral moves. A sponsor can use their social capital and resources on the behalf of their sponsee. Find out more from the NHS Leadership Academy.

Good practice

South West London and St George’s NHS Trust: BME Programme, funded by the Burdett Nursing Trust was featured in the Guardian and shortlisted for an RCNI award. The Trust received a second Burdett grant to focus on using BME nurse expertise to reduce restrictive practices, which was presented at the June 2021 RCN MHN international conference.

smart_display Reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring schemes exist across the NHS and beyond to improve equality, diversity and inclusion. Find out more about the Reciprocal Mentoring for Inclusion programme from the NHS Leadership Academy. Other examples of schemes also exist outside of the NHS, for example the University of Nottingham Reverse Mentoring for Equality Diversity and Inclusion Project.

In this video, Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust share their experience of reverse mentoring and the impact it had on them, colleagues and the wider Trust.