Around 200 students on paid placements will test out controversial government plans to require future nurses to spend up to a year working as a healthcare assistant before starting their degree.
A 16-member steering group, including several high profile nurses, has also been announced to oversee pilot schemes for the plan, which includes several outspoken critics of the idea.
The pilots are scheduled to begin in the autumn, as revealed in April by Nursing Times.
The idea was the central proposal in the government’s response to the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust Public Inquiry report.
While Robert Francis QC’s report had recommended students spend at least three months working on the direct care of patients before their degree course, the government expanded it to up to year.
The idea drew largely unfavourable responses from nurse commentators and unions. Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter invoked a public row with the government over the idea last month when he described the policy as having “more holes than a Swiss cheese”.
Earlier this month, the Council of Deans of Health published a paper claiming the proposals should come with a “serious health warning” for the NHS, with “potentially serious unintended consequences” for the role of HCAs, mentorship of students and patient safety.
It argued that focusing on the year after a newly-qualified nurse joined the profession “may be far more significant” than the year before a student joined their course.
However, student nurses themselves appear divided. A Nursing Times survey of over 1,400 students in April found 42% thought it was a good idea and the same percentage that it was a bad idea.
The national steering group announced yesterday by Health Education England will be chaired by Sir Stephen Moss, a former nurse and manager, who is currently a non-executive director at Derby Hospitals Foundation Trust. His most high profile role was as turnaround chair of Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust from August 2009 until January 2012.
The group also includes leaders from the RCN, Unison, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Department of Health.
It will oversee the pilot programme to “see how best to take forward these proposals and assess the most appropriate timescale”, Health Education England said in a statement. The group will also be responsible for evaluation in areas, including the ability to test for values and behaviours and reductions in attrition rates.
The statement added that the pilots were “likely to involve up to 200 nursing students on paid placements across the country from this autumn”.
Professor Ian Cumming, chief executive of Health Education England, said: “The healthcare experience will allow students to understand whether nursing and hands-on care is right for them.
“It should be hard to be a nurse – a vocation, a real desire, not just something you accept as second best so you can do a degree course.”
Sir Stephen Moss, Chair of the steering group, said: “I am delighted to have been asked to chair the steering group for this important piece of work.”
He added: “It is vitally important that we deliver skilled patient care, with kindness and compassion, and piloting this pre-degree experience will enable us to test out the effectiveness of exposing potential students to front line care and professional values at an early stage, before their formal degree programme.
“Of one thing I am certain, that is that things cannot stay as they are. We owe it to those we serve to continually seek new and innovative ways to meet their needs.”
Steering Group members:
- Sir Stephen Moss (Chair), Non-executive director, Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Lisa Bayliss-Pratt (Vice-chair and project director), Director of Nursing, Health Education England
- Jo Lenaghan, Director of Strategy, Health Education England
- Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer, NHS England
- Viv Bennett, Director of Nursing, Department of Health and Public Health England
- Peter Blythin, Director of Nursing, NHS Trust Development Authority
- Peter Carter, Chief Executive and General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing
- Gail Adams, Head of Nursing, UNISON
- Ieuan Ellis, Chair, Council of Deans of Health
- Dame Christine Beasley, Chair, North Central and East London, Local Education and Training Boards
- Dean Royles, Chief Executive, NHS Employers
- Mark Newbold, Chief Executive, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, CEO Provider
- Sally Brearley, Chair, Nursing and Care Quality Forum
- Jackie Smith/Judith Ellis, Nursing and Midwifery Council
- Ann Farenden, Care Quality Commission
- Alan Robson, Deputy Director of Workforce Development Strategy, Department of Health
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