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Second wave of student nurse HCA pilots planned

Health Education England is planning a second phase of pilots for the controversial scheme to make aspiring nurses work as healthcare assistants before starting their training, Nursing Times has learnt.

The scheme formed a central part of the government’s initial response to the Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust back in March.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt proposed all aspiring nurses should complete a full year working as a HCA before they could be considered for entry onto an NHS funded course.

Health Education England was asked to trial the scheme and set out strict criteria for the first six pilots, which were up and running by September.

However, Nursing Times understands the second phase will be a lot more flexible. For example, potential nursing students could be required to work for periods of three or six months rather than a full year.

Many in the profession have argued a year is too long and therefore the softening of the criteria for the new pilots is likely to be welcomed.

The proposed second phase was due to be discussed at a meeting of the pre-nursing experience steering group earlier this week.

A spokesman for Health Education England said: “Planning and implementation of the existing pre-nursing experience pilots has been very successful and a second phase would allow us the opportunity to explore and evaluate similar and alternative channels for aspiring nurses to gain experience and over a shorter period.”

About 180 potential student nurses were recruited to the first wave of pilots that started in September.

Nursing Times has previously reported on pilots in the areas covered by the East of England, East Midlands and North and East Central London local education and training boards.

Other areas tasking part include the West Midlands – where University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust, Birmingham Women’s Hospital and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust are taking students – the North West and the North East.


Readers' comments (15)

  • Clearly the current nurse education system is woefully inadequate if Students are having to learn skills that the course should be teaching them prior to starting; alarm bells should be ringing!

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  • I personally think a 3 month HCA placement would benefit student nurses. Some people drop out after the first placement because they don't realise what the job entails and we spend some much time on our first placements purely learning how hospitals function.

    A year is much too long though.

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  • Only in England where a third of acute trusts are seeking overseas recruitment would HEE support the delay in training to be a nurse.

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  • A year is a good time scale to learn the basis of a nurse but we are always learning daily with each patient! You can defiantly tell when a student nurse has been/is a HCA to those who are from school!

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  • michael stone

    I argued that in principle something like 3 months seemed adequate (because this was never about 'learning how to nurse/care' in that period as an HCA: it was obviously intended to act as a 'filter for attitude') : I'm pleased that 'Many in the profession have argued a year is too long' because it is nice that some HCPs agree with me about something !

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  • To be honest, throughout your 3 yrs of training u do more hca training than nursing.

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  • I would have gained a lot from this scheme when I became a student nurse. However, as nursing is today, once you have qualified, as you go through your nursing career you spend less and less time giving hands on care. Being a HCA for a while would still be beneficial, if only to give an understanding of what our colleagues do whilst we are doing the "real" nursing (endless drug rounds/paperwork/computer input etc etc)

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  • I don't think you can 'teach' anyone to be caring, being a caring person is an innate characteristic that you are either born with or not so therefore although I can see why the government would suggest this (it looks good to the general public and looks like they are doing something) I don't think it will necessarily make potentially bad nurses better. I am now in my third year of training and I'm not sure what the government think student nurses do in their first year- the while focus in the first year is personal care and most of my time was spent with a HCA.

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  • Jeremy Hunt and others take credit for this?
    In 2006, at 35 years old I started my nurse training in Bradford. Having had no direct care experience it was very frightening. My mentor took me in tow and with an experienced and dedicated HCA. We worked the ward as a hands-on trio for 6 weeks. By far the best placement ever and it made up for the challanges later both pre and post registration.
    As a staff nurse now, I can see why either through choice or workload priorities struggle to deliver the spectrum of care that we want for every patient under our care. Is this due to the likelihood that our skills and education are prevented from being utilised effectively?
    Nurses are supposed to be hands-on and adapt care to multiple patients with an array of complex needs. Answering telephones and completing 'tick-box' documentation is not a utilisation of my skills or preference. I want to be interacting and getting patients recovering, comfortable and confident enough to go home, when possible.
    Don't get me wrong, I have no problem if someone is the 'administrative nurse'. Although it would not have done any harm if you had applied for a Business Studies course instead of Nursing. All nurses should be working the ward, irrespective of grade or position. It will keep us fresh.
    Let's make a habit of working with the HCAs in direct patient care so that we can assess in line with our skills.

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  • MeThinks

    Nurses lacking hands-on activity in their jobs, is a very valid issue but I am not convinced this pre-training year is about hands-on activity being something most nurses would like to do.

    I think this is about trying to stop people who would prefer to avoid any hands-on nursing from being trained as nurses: I believe this HCA experience is a proxy for selection by attitude.

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  • It's just going back to the old cadets, if they just left things as they were, I don't think nursing would be in the state it's in; it takes us so long to relearn things we once knew.

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  • Why are we as a profession permitting this nonsense?

    Using the same flawed thought process would have wannabe Vets mucking out pig sty's for a year and students of Architecture spending a year working as labourers on a building site.

    Where is the professional leadership which should be opposing this exploitation of potential Nurses ?

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  • Dear Jenny
    I can see your point, as a nurse with BSc and 17 years experience under my belt. However, HCAs of today are doing what nurses used to do. And so working with them gives the student nurse a good grounding. Also, there is so much satisfaction to be gained from learning how to give personal care, to protect the patient's dignity while doing it and it gives you the chance to talk to the patient. You then form the therapeutic relationship that you read about in the text books. Having that relationship gives you the chance to assess the patient, do health promotion and generally find out what your patient needs. So giving hands on care isn't degrading. And to the patient, it can make all the difference. I can still recall, post C section that apart from help getting out of bed, no-one offered me any help to get washed, dressed, etc. I was exhausted from lack of sleep. I would have welcomed someone at least asking me could I manage! It seems that in hospital as long as you can walk you can get on with it!

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  • Jenny Jones | 17-Oct-2013 10:54 am

    the responsibilities of caring for something as fragile and sensitive as human lives can hardly be compared with the skills which need to be learned to muck out a pig sty or erect a building, although I agree if they are incorrectly executed the consequences could also be fatal to human or pig life. However, the skills needed in these examples are probably learned far faster than good basic nursing skills and apprentices are probably given lesser tasks until they have developed the relevant competencies to ensure the pigs come to no harm and people will not be damaged by the collapse of a poorly or incorrectly constructed building.

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  • I feel student nurses having at least some HCA experience would be great because it will help them decide wheter nursing is for them or not. I had no experience prior to starting my course and the I was petrified the first day I walked onto my first ward placement, I really was a fish out of water and it took me to the end of my first year to fully feel confident in personal care.

    If students already have experience in personal care it gives them an opurtunity to do more things and get more skills signed off than trying to learn the ropes of personal care the whole of their first year.

    Also the drop out rates will lower because less people will apply to nursing with rose tinted glasses.

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