There were some great speakers at the Chief Nursing Officer’s Summit a couple of weeks ago, and delegates left with plenty of food for thought, advice on how to tackle NHS priorities, and new networks of mutual support developed over the two days. Even in the best conferences, often the most valuable aspect for delegates is the opportunity to meet peers, share experiences and ideas and mull over the latest challenges.
One of the sessions at the summit involved a panel that included Professor Steve Field, former Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners and Chairman of the Department of Health’s National Inclusion Health Board. He has spent much of the last year visiting GP practices, and said one of his major concerns was professional development for practice nurses.
Prof Field said many practice nurses find it difficult to access CPD – the worst case he came across was a nurse who had received no training or education in over 20 years. Of course, like all practitioners on the NMC register, practice nurses are required to keep up to date, and we must hope that the nurse Prof Field mentioned had undertaken some independent study. But surely the GPs employing the nurse should be expected to fund some training?
The role of the practice nurse today would be unrecognisable to one practising 20 years ago. These nurses now shoulder a huge amount of responsibility, and most of the new tasks they have taken on have increased practice incomes. Aren’t they worthy of investment? And more to the point, don’t patients deserve well-trained practice nurses?
The problem for these nurses is that they are all employed by small businesses. Some of these recognise their nurses’ value and ensure they are supported in developing their careers. Unfortunately, others simply pile on the responsibilities and either expect their nurses to organise and fund their own training or don’t even bother to ensure they are undertaking any.
Working in small organisations can be isolating, with few or no peers for mutual support, while many practices have rigid hierarchies that make it difficult for nurses to assert themselves. After all, their line manager is also likely to be their employer.
As more care is moved out of the acute sector it becomes increasingly urgent to ensure that practice nurses receive appropriate training and education. Like delegates at the CNO summit, they would also find opportunities to meet their peers invaluable. Clinical commissioning groups need to take this issue seriously, and require all GP practices to offer their nurses access to professional development and peer support. These nurses have enabled their practices to transform and profitability to expand. It’s time they were given the recognition and investment they deserve.