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New clinical research pathways are welcome

The consultation on the most significant shake-up to nursing careers has backed the plan for new career pathways, but the detail is yet to be agreed.

Unsurprisingly, the plan for five new career pathways, broadly based on patient pathways, was welcomed. It makes sense and provides real career flexibility for nurses. However, the report says the plan was ‘contentious’. This is also unsurprising – incorporating learning disability into mental health was never going be welcomed by either group. And grouping maternity with paediatric nursing and public health was also criticised.

What the consultation has failed to do is finalise how many career pathways nurses will follow – the proposed five pathways can still change. This delays the process but may be the right move because the big question that remains unanswered is how the proposed career pathways fit with the eight clinical care pathways in the NHS Next Stage Review.

It is wrong to assume the two will neatly overlay. The Darzi review separates maternity from paediatrics and public health and this may well be the solution for nurse career pathways. Darzi’s proposal for one acute care pathway rather than the two proposed in Modernising Nursing Careers may also be a clearer approach. It appears unlikely that we need a specific end-of-life care career pathway, although it is one of the eight clinical pathways. There is obviously much work to do here.

With the results of the consultation came some excellent details on the plan to introduce clinical academic career pathways. For too long, nurses have had to choose between continuing in clinical practice or undertaking research. Even the consultant nurse posts have, in most cases, failed to allow both.

No longer. Now nurses will be able to continue clinical work while conducting research. This is an excellent development and will have an additional benefit aside from enabling many nurses to develop their careers. It will also increase the research base for nursing. This is going to be crucial as the quality of nursing – and the ability to demonstrate that quality – takes centre stage in our healthcare system.

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