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Nurses need new skills for NHS of the future

New skills and qualifications will be required by nurses working in the health service of the future, according to the head of the new national training and education quango.

In his first interview since taking the role, Ian Cumming, chief executive of Health Education England, called for innovation in how nurses are trained to create a more flexible workforce and to improve the quality of care.

Professor Cumming stressed the importance of nurses having the right values to deliver compassionate care and he hinted at changes to the way students are selected for courses to ensure they reflect better values.

Health Education England will oversee a £5.5bn budget, alongside England’s 16 local education and training boards which will commission services locally.

Professor Cumming told Nursing Times: “We are going to need people who are trained in very different ways, people who will work in very different ways. We are still training many of our professional workforce to work in the health service of the past.

“We need to train people who are flexible and adaptable and make sure that education being commissioned is of the highest quality, value for money and reflects the people we want to produce at the end of it.”

He called for innovation in skills provision, expressing an interest in the joint nursing and pharmacy degrees available in the US.

Professor Cumming said the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry had “brought into sharp relief” the need to ensure prospective workers - including nurses - possessed the right values to work in the NHS.

Universities and training providers could, he suggested, improve their selection processes by better selecting people who had demonstrated the right values to join a caring profession.

“You will find some fantastic practice with regard to selection and you will find some places where more could be done,” he said of them.

He added: “HEE exists for one thing only and that is to make sure the highest possible quality of care is delivered to NHS and non-NHS patients.” This would also involve working with the existing workforce to improve quality, he said.

Professor Cumming, former chief executive of NHS West Midlands, said HEE would give greater freedom to LETBs and would not be a regulator breathing down their necks.

The sector would have a “distributed model of leadership”, he added.

“I think our style with LETBs is focusing on the ‘what’ and they will have the freedom on the ‘how’. They will agree their objectives with us, they will have their delegated resource to get on with it and then we will hold them to account.”

His comments come at a time some student nurses have complained of the difficulty of obtaining staff nurse jobs, while the government has had to fast-track training for health visitors after a dramatic slump in numbers.

Professor Cumming added: “There are some parts of the country and some trusts where I do not believe workforce planning has been taken as seriously as it should have been in terms of thinking about the consequences for themselves about the supply of the workforce in the future.”

Readers' comments (12)

  • Erm........just thinking about this, by values does he mean, undertaking a broader range of responsibilities for less pay, a poorer pension deal and no job security?
    On a serious note - it is good to be academically able to ensure workforce can understand, deliver quality, safe care and function in a fast paced highly technical environment BUT people still need the basics whether they are acutely unwell in secondary care or managing a long term condition in the community. They have messed about with nurse education for years and yet are still saying they haven't got it right.....shame :-(

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  • "Professor Cumming stressed the importance of nurses having the right values to deliver compassionate care and he hinted at changes to the way students are selected for courses to ensure they reflect better values."

    Which is a brilliant idea but when there are those of us who aren't entirely academically minded but are knowledgeable, caring and intelligent and yet are failed at the final hurdle, future candidates WON'T be picked for their caring natures, they will be picked for their brains so that they can pass the courses, regardless of whether they'd make good practical nurses or not.

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  • So nurses need to have different skills. I have nursed since 1977, I would love to gain more skills, but how do I afford them and as I work full time and as the main bread winner can't really afford to become a student again who do I get them.
    I have looked at several courses and they say must already be working in the area to up skill, but job ads say must have the skill. Sick of chicken and egg. I already have a degree, I already have a post grad cert. yet due to changes I more, or new skills. Don't neglect the nurses already there.

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  • a friend of mine with a life long career in nursing and now a sister was told she had to update her computer skills about nine months before her retirement age. as it was not practical for her to do so and they would not keep her on without doing the course she was forced into early retirement.

    from my own experience I think that since nursing has gone over to the very inappropriate general management model of determining how we work we are forced to accept it and it seems to be the savvy thing to do to identify gaps in the labour market (to put it in management speak) and acquire the appropriate training and skills and try to fill the gaps. as above this is rather a chicken and egg gamble and is probably a better strategy for the newly qualified or those earlier on in their careers rather than those in the middle to end of their careers which leaves them rather stuck.

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  • 'He called for innovation in skills provision, expressing an interest in the joint nursing and pharmacy degrees available in the US.'

    Nurses need to understand enough about drugs, and so do doctors, but pharmacists are pharmacists; I'm not entirely sure what a joint nurse/pharmacist would be ?

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  • I have worked with nurses from other countries who are trained like junior doctors. When put on a ward that has next to no help to do basic care for their patients they found the going tough.
    I did the old style training, so when I have to wash or toilet a patient I do it as part of my job, however the nurses with their degrees from abroad is finding it difficult. I welcome futher training but we must have cover enough to do the basic important jobs.

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  • Heather Henry

    Oh Professor Cumming! I feel you are a new broom trying to sweep clean, but you haven't checked the broom cupboard to see the quality of the current stock.
    And as for the point about people not taking workforce planning seriously, how right he is! Lets take the DH for example: For years, I saw HV team managers arguing with commissioners about the need to recruit more staff. But because commissioners didnt really understand what HVs did, they refused. Then the DH came along and said 'thou shalt have more HVs', but didnt really talk to commissioners about that. So the commissioners are then forced to pay for HVs that they didnt commission and I bet they will cut another service to pay for it.

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  • Nurses today need to be taught the real value and skills nurses are supposed to possess. The complaints you read every day in the national press expose nurses are failing to nurse. Please value nurses who perform the basics well and with care and compassion and please stop placing value and emphasis on additional skills. If we do this patients will at last feel cared for and thrive.

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  • I am thinking of going into nursing as I have over 18 years care experience, 8 in a hospital setting, from what I see going on in nursing today, the goverment seem more interested in the academic side of nursing. What happened to basic nursing skills, nurses are overwhelmed with paperwork and pressurised immensly from all quarters. Leave them alone to get on with what they trained for. I dont know at the moment if I would like to pursue a career in nursing not because I would not be able to deal with the pressures of this profession but because it appears to me that BRAINS seem more important than practical skills, and I for one would prefer the old fashioned basic patient care returned.

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  • I did my training back in the sixties and I was proud to be a caring practical trained nurse.(I still am incidently) Today there is too much emphasis placed on the need for higher degrees and academic qualifications and this is attracting the person without the same reasons for becoming a nurse that I had back in 1960.The good old caring practical nurse training should be reintroduced to actually provide the care for our patients The higher level degree trained nurse can then become the managers and hopefully work in conjunction with the practical nurse. This would benefit the patients ultimately but also provide a good basic team, essential to the present NHS.

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  • one idea, which has already been suggested in NT comments before, would be to do a basic training and work as a qualified nurse for a specified time before being able to go on and do a degree with more specialised subject matter or nursing management or other subjects of choice. This seems to have value in that there would be nurses to fill basic posts and with the choice to move up the ladder into specialisation or management.

    Whether this would work out in practice is a different matter as many would not wish to, or be able to, return to study because of family or financial commitments. what could open doors for some may close opportunities to others but it seems clear some sort of change is needed to keep nursing up to date with the needs of current and future healthcare demands and of the labour market and economic climate. nursing needs to be flexible and adaptable to keep abreast of change in order to enable nurses to fill the posts available.

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  • Florence

    I agree that the balance in Nurse Education has not yet been achieved. I trained just before Diploma style education was inntroduced. Im not looking back with rose- tinted spectacles as I feel that the way we deliver healthcare has and needed to alter in so many ways. However many of the nurses who qualify today do feel so much more unprepared for their roles as staff nurses than I did.
    Some of the suggestions posted make good sense to me. Degree level training after basic training in management or another speciality sounds feasible to me. However this would have to accessible to all nurses after the initial training. It would also give Nurses the freedom to look around and and gain a variety of experience before settling on a speciality. The further degree training would allow the Nurses to really become knowledgable in their chosen fields.
    I feel the emphasis is placed too much on Nurses who wish to advance up the career ladder. There is a place for them and there is a place for those of us who choose to remain at the level of a staff nurse.
    To be honest I feel a bit lost at sea as there seems to be little attention paid to experienced staff nurses who are already a valuable part of the work force. Im well able to identify my own learning needs and I don't need continual support . However an acknowledgement of my skills and to be given an oppertunity to develop those further would be welcome. The Nurses in my area who are getting courses are the ones who want promotion or the the more newly qualified. We all need to continue to learn. I was told recently that there was no more courses I could do in my role. This is untrue and I was disgusted to find that one of my colleagues have been given oppertunities to do MORE than one course this year.I don't grudge the young nurse the oppertunity.As she hasn't had any courses until now. And Im delighted she has been assertive and stated what she needs to develop herself. Im just cross that my Manager has set aside the needs of others to facilitate this. Perhaps I need to call an early appraisal with my Manager and re set my objectives through the appraisal system.
    In my experience the Nurses who choose not to go for promotions are less supported in terms of getting courses, and their place and value in the workplace is often over looked. Im all for everyone getting what they need in terms of professional development. However it doesn't seem to be happening. I feel that finances are not just the crux of the problem. There just seems to be less nurturing of staff at all levels.And I believe that comes from very senior levels. While I don't need to have my hand held. I realise its my job to value myself and what I do actually contribute to my work place.
    I believe the NHS is missing a valuable oppertunity in overlooking the experienced nurses already in place. As we support the less experienced staff and allow our Managers to get on with their jobs with peace of mind as they know we can carry out our roles effectively.

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