Some health visitor practice teachers are being asked to take responsibility for up to six times the recommended number of students in a bid to meet government targets to expand the profession.
The Department of Health’s “Call to Action” on health visiting set a target last year to increase the workforce by 50% by 2015. It is estimated 6,000 new health visitors need to be trained to meet the target.
A snapshot survey of health visitor practice teachers has found more than a quarter are currently responsible for three or more students, with 2% responsible for six or more.
Health visitor and Plymouth University lecturer Penny Franklin carried out the survey on behalf of the Unite Community Practitioner and Health Visitors Association.
Presenting the findings at the union’s conference in Brighton last week, she said some health visitors had reported full caseloads on top of teaching responsibilities, and there was a risk of “unsafe practices” in terms of who has signed off students.
She highlighted that some practice teachers were signing off not only their own student, but also students being supervised by practice teachers in training, or those being supervised by experienced health visitors acting as mentors.
This “long armed” approach was backed in a Nursing and Midwifery Council education circular, issued in September 2011 to support the government’s health visitor strategy. But the circular said it was a “matter of professional judgement” for the practice teacher to decide how many students they had.
Formal NMC guidelines, published in 2008, had previously recommended practice teachers should only support one student at a time.
Unite professional officer Dave Munday told Nursing Times the NMC circular had confused things by suggesting the “long armed approach” was acceptable, but without clarifying how many students teachers could oversee in this way.
“Some organisations have come up with a model that might not be perfect, but is workable; but some organisations are doing things that are wholly inappropriate,” he said.
DH director of nursing Viv Bennett told Nursing Times there were positives to the long armed approach, as students had input from more than one experienced health visitor but accepted a safe balance needed to be achieved.
Earlier in the conference, professor Bennett thanked practice teachers for their contribution to achieving the DH’s health visitor vision. “I am eternally grateful to all of the practice teachers who stepped forward to make sure we can train all of these students.”