AN INTERNSHIP project launched to grow the NHS workforce is coming back to two Somerset hospitals.

The Project SEARCH team has been at Musgrove Park Hospital (MPH) and Yeovil District Hospital (YDH) over the last few months.

Project SEARCH is a global charity that began in the United States and supports internships across the world – including here in Somerset, where this year teams are celebrating nine years of supporting interns at MPH, as well as a slightly different internship at YDH.

With the need to grow the NHS workforce never greater, Project SEARCH is this year making a comeback at YDH too, thanks to a link-up with Yeovil College and Discovery.

Ross Lanchester, a lecturer and study programme manager at Yeovil College, explains the all-around benefits that the internship brings.

“In this country, under 5 per cent of young people with a learning difficulty are in paid employment,” he said.

“This is a really shocking statistic and something we want to help put right, even if only in a small way through Project SEARCH.

“While teams and departments at the trust will benefit from hosting an intern, the main aim is to help them into paid employment, and in theory, that could even happen before the end of their internship, which of course would be great news and we’d never hold them back.

“It’s fantastic news to bring Project SEARCH back to YDH and it actually all happened so fast, as we learned the news back in May, which meant we needed to delay the start a little until late September, to ensure all the structures were in place to support our interns.

“Fast forward a few months and we now have six interns who’ve been assigned jobs across a mixture of our wards and departments – materials management, linen room, catering, stores, and our maternity unit, with more to come.

“We’ve found that all our interns are so far really keen to make a real mark in their area, and to gain that vital work experience.”

Patients, visitors, and colleagues at MPH will be more familiar with Project SEARCH, having supported interns for almost a decade through a partnership with Bridgwater and Taunton College and Discovery, while YDH has also hosted interns, but through a similar scheme.

Job coach Maria Nicholls says this year is already shaping up to be extra special.

She said: “We’ve welcomed a total of 12 interns (and a dog) at MPH, who are working across a range of departments, from goods-in, trust management, and clinical coding, to the hospital kitchen, learning and development, acute medical unit, and other inpatient wards.

“For the first time ever, one of our interns has a therapy dog, which is really exciting, though important to note they’re a working dog…so although it’s tempting, please don’t make too much fuss of our furry friend.

“Our interns are already starting to thrive in the workplace, making colleagues really happy at the same time.

For example, Georgia on Eliot ward at MPH always has a beaming smile, and it really rubs off on her fellow colleagues on the ward.”

Kim Hosking, Somerset NHS Foundation Trust’s employer business liaison officer for Project SEARCH, remarked how one of the most amazing things about working with interns is how supportive and encouraging they are of each other.

“After the graduation of the last group we hosted, it was clear to see how close they were,” she said. “So many of them said they’d miss each other so much, and swapped numbers and socials to stay in touch.

“The placements are amazing of course, but bringing these individuals together really gives them something to strive for, and hopefully paid work at the end of it too!

“Project SEARCH has a great impact on colleague mentors too in their job role, as they’ve been individually selected to pass on their knowledge to someone else, and also represent the hospital by showing the standards that need to be met – it’s definitely something to be very proud of.

“Growing our own colleagues has never been so important in the context of the national staffing shortages and increasing demand on the NHS, and this is a good example of how we’re able to do this.

“Our interns adopt our NHS trust values and we train them up, so it’s a really attractive prospect for potential employers.”