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Early learning's a must in elderly care

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 16, PAGE NO: 33

Janet Gillan MSc RGN NDNCert DPSN

It's time we developed a preregistration branch of nursing for the care of older people because we have to face up to the fact that we don't always get it right.

It's time we developed a preregistration branch of nursing for the care of older people because we have to face up to the fact that we don't always get it right.

Some vulnerable older patients are being abused and discriminated against in the health services and nursing has to take its share of the responsibility.

Why aren't we, as a profession, doing something to put things right. We know the system can mitigate against quality care for older people and we know that the bad attitudes of senior staff can have an impact on nursing students' experiences.

It's time we nipped this in the bud by developing a dedicated branch programme. If we don't, we could be accused of discrimination because there is a dedicated branch for paediatric nursing and that group suffers from similar problems to those of older people.

We have known for years that older people are easy targets for abuse because they are often frail or vulnerable. Many nurses have witnessed age discrimination and the poor care of older people in one form or another. You only have to look at the off-duty rota on elderly wards to see that their establishment levels are lower than those in many acute wards.

The skills necessary to work with older people are often complex and the work can be challenging, but if we trained a dedicated group of students and equipped them with positive attitudes, relevant knowledge and clinical skills, we could at least begin to build a workforce that could influence and improve practice.

The numbers might be small at first, but as opportunities in this field open up they could be gradually increased.

The National Service Framework for Older People supports the notion of improving quality of care and recognises the complexity of its delivery. It also recognises that older people's care should be delivered by staff with the right skills to meet their needs.

What better way to start improving our part of the bargain.

Bad attitudes are formed early on by poor experience. Focusing on preregistration education might be the way to prevent them from developing and could go some way towards meeting the new standards.

I know there will be some educationalists who think this could be a retrograde step, but our track record as a profession in this area has not been remarkable.

The stark reality is that older people continue to get a raw deal in the health service. We need to educate nurses about their care much earlier in their careers.

Developing a specific branch programme for the care of older people would show that, as a profession, we value those working in this field and the people they care for. It would also provide an opportunity to develop real working partnerships and get older people to tell us what they need.

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