Learners flock to colleges to help combat Covid-19 threat

Further education colleges and universities provide free online and upskilling courses

A newly trained medical personnel removes personal protective equipment. Photograph: David Paul Morris/ Bloomberg

A newly trained medical personnel removes personal protective equipment. Photograph: David Paul Morris/ Bloomberg

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Before the lockdown, Hank Traynor was involved in providing safety training on building sites.

In recent weeks, he’s become one of hundreds of people to complete upskilling courses at his local further education college on how to reduce the threat posed by coronavirus.

“Our business is closed at the moment, there’s no safety training going on, so I thought this would give me a skill to do my bit in a nursing home, hospital or healthcare centre.

“They are all under immense pressure. There are healthcare professionals dying in the trenches, going into work every day of the week and not coming home in some cases. I thought that if I can play my part, it might help a little.”

The course in infection control, developed by Laois Offaly Education and Training Board (ETB), is an example of how further education colleges and universities across the State are providing a range of free courses to individuals from diverse backgrounds to help tackle the Covid-19 threat.

They range from online courses in infection control for those with no healthcare experience to accelerated programmes for nurses on how to provide critical care to Covid-19 patients.

At Laois Offaly ETB, for example, just over 120 people have participated in its infection prevention and control online course so far.

It links learners to Servisource, which is an official partner to the HSE in supporting the Ireland On-Call campaign.

It is also in contact with local nursing homes that are seeking staff and is providing these contact details to the participants on the course as an additional employment option.

“We are offering this opportunity to people who, through previous learning and experience, are in a position to quickly upskill and become part of the HSE’s team if they are required,” says Tony Dalton, Laois and Offaly’s director of further education and training. “And they may not be. But if called upon, we are trying to ensure they’ll be ready.”

Critical care modules

UCD and UCC, meanwhile, are among the universities providing modules on critical care nursing for professionals working in healthcare settings.

Prof Josephine Hegarty, head of UCC’s school of nursing and midwifery, said the easy and rapid access to this education would increase the number of nurses available to provide critical care to patients.

“To effectively treat the number of anticipated patients with Covid-19 who require intensive care, it will be important to build critical care capacity within the Irish healthcare system. To a large extent, this capacity will include the provision of expert nursing, medical and allied healthcare as well as the provision of mechanical ventilation,” she said.

This module, she said, was facilitating nurses to develop high-level skills in caring for patients who are critically ill, and help them to work with other healthcare professionals in intensive care settings.

“In addition, the module will facilitate nurses to provide high levels of support to patients and families during their period of critical care.”

Most upskilling courses are run completely online and learners need only the capacity to record and submit skills demonstrations.

Students are typically supported online and by phone by experienced tutors throughout the process.

‘Eye-opening’ experience

For Traynor, who recently completed his infection control course, the experience was an eye-opener.

“I’d never realised the work and risk assessment involved in simple things like changing beds, cleaning toilets or commodes: Covid-19 is so dangerous and so easy to spread,” he said.

“Even the process of putting on and off PPE [personal protective equipment] . . . It’s not as simple as ripping it off: it’s a systematic process. There’s a safe way to do it, but it is very easy to contaminate equipment if you let your guard down.

“It’s been a great learning experience. I feel I can offer a little help and will be ready do my bit. We’re all in this together.”

* This article was amended to correct an error