Qualified nurses are being turned away from jobs in the NHS because of poor numeracy skills it has been claimed.
Hospital providers have claimed some nurses are not able to pass numeracy and literacy tests as part of the recruitment process, which includes testing their ability to correctly calculate drug doses.
“There is a problem with nurse training when so many qualified nurses are unable to do basic drug calculations”
Health Education England has now appealed for evidence of the “anecdotal” problem amid greater focus on the education and training of qualified nurses following the Francis Report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
Central and North West London Foundation Trust tests nursing applicants for numeracy and literacy, and regularly sees failure rates of 50-80%.
Trust chief executive Claire Murdoch, herself a registered nurse, said: “You have to say there is a problem with nurse training when so many qualified nurses are unable to do basic drug calculations.
“We as providers share responsibility for this along with the universities. HEE needs to be tougher in their expectations of universities in who they are recruiting and how they are training them, as does the Nursing and Midwifery Council.”
Professor Kath Fenton, chief nurse at University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust, has also previously criticised variation in nursing applicants with around a third of applicants rejected before interview.
Sam Jones, chief executive of West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust and a former nurse, called for more structured education and support for qualified nurses similar to the foundation programme for junior doctors.
“It isn’t good for patient care or for those individual nurses”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Peter Carter said the recently announced Shape of Caring review into nursing education, which is being led by Lord Willis, should examine the issue.
He added: “It is obviously a worry and what we need is not to get defensive, not to start arguing, but instead sit down and talk about it, because it isn’t good for patient care or for those individual nurses.”
Professor Ieuan Ellis, chair of the UK Council of Deans of Health, said: “Student nurses graduating from UK higher education institutes have excellent employment prospects.”
He said between 81-100% went on to graduate level jobs. “If there was evidence of a widespread problem we’d be happy to follow it up but this view is simply not backed up by the data,” he said.
Professor Ellis added: “Prospective students are tested for numeracy and literacy as a first step before they get to interview and throughout their course. If there are issues with graduates from particular universities then there are local mechanisms in place to ensure this is addressed and educators, service providers and commissioners should work together to do this.”
A spokeswoman for HEE said: “There have been anecdotal claims for some time that nurses are qualifying but not being offered jobs.
“This is an historical position that Health Education England has inherited and we would be very keen to hear about specific circumstances so that we can ensure future training provides the right people with the right skills, values and behaviours.”
The first cohort of nurses to qualify following changes to education standards by the NMC in 2010 will join the workforce later this year.