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Government acts to fix nurse education failures

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The best nursing courses will be commissioned and poor ones could see their funding withdrawn, under latest government plans to tackle the failures in nurse education.

The move, designed to promote the Department of Health’s focus on quality, builds on a pledge in the NHS Next Stage Review to ensure that the profession recruits the ‘best candidates into nursing’.

In an exclusive interview with Nursing Times, Clare Chapman, the Department of Health’s director general of workforce, acknowledged the standard of pre-registration training on some courses was not up to scratch.

‘If you look at world-class commissioning, do we do world class commissioning of education – no,’ Ms Chapman said.

‘There is a piece of work going on at the moment to look at what education commissioning would need to look like if it was to be more aligned with world-class commissioning.’

She said that the government was considering the use of more ‘variable pricing’ to reward courses that provided quality as well as quantity with more lucrative contracts.

‘What that means is that those education providers that deliver things that are attractive to nurses and deliver nurses who are really employable by the service are going to be ones who get paid more,’ she said.

‘It sounds simple but it hasn’t consistently been done across the service – I think that’s a big prize,’ she added.

Newly qualified nurses entering the profession without the necessary standard of skills, most notably in numeracy and literacy, has become a growing problem for the NHS.

The level of support offered to students has also been questioned with some courses recording excessively high attrition rates.

Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust said in February 2008 that it would cease to provide Thames Valley University with nursing student places as they were not given sufficient educational support.

The problem also sparked the NMC to issue a circular last year stating that by the time a student has qualified it expects them to demonstrate the literacy and numeracy skills ‘essential for care delivery’ – though the regulator stopped short of saying new nurses should be tested on such skills.

NHS London has already started introducing a quality control scheme for the nursing courses that feed it, as reported on in December 2008.

The system, called Quality Assurance, rates the performance of all London healthcare colleges and universities supplying staff
to the NHS against key performance indicators.

Institutions will be issued a ‘traffic light’ rating of red, amber or green. Those with a red rating could have their contract terminated or reduced. The first ratings for nursing courses will be available in April.

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