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CNO announces ‘nurse first’ scheme for graduates


A new fast track “nurse first” programme designed to attract graduates from other subject areas into nursing has been announced by the chief nursing officer for England.

The new scheme, inspired by the Teach First programme, is intended to create a postgraduate programme that will fast-track “high achievers” into registered graduate nursing positions.

“Nursing has always greatly benefited from the varied backgrounds and life experience of its staff”

Jane Cummings

The move, announced today by Professor Jane Cummings, forms part of a range of initiatives to try and boost nurse numbers that are set out in a new plan from NHS England.

In a statement revealing the Nurse First scheme, NHS England suggested the first fast-track trainees would begin their studies in September.

It said it would help address workforce capacity and support the development of future nurse leaders in key areas, targeting mental health and learning disabilities in the first instance.

Successful applicants will attend an educational course as well as receive “hands on experience and training within the NHS”, said NHS England.

Ambitious and committed individuals will then be given the opportunity to enter a development scheme to rapidly progress their careers to leadership posts within five to seven years.

“The ‘nurse first’ initiative is a positive way to attract talented graduates”

Janet Davies

The programme will initially be piloted in three areas across the country. Successful pilot sites will focus on known areas of pressure that are typically difficult to recruit for or where historically shortages have existed – for example, mental health and learning disabilities.

Under the plans, workforce planning body Health Education England will also work to help identify possible university partners with existing postgraduate programmes or those with the capacity and capability to develop these quickly.

With oversight from the CNO, HEE will co-ordinate the pilot programme working closely with other government arm’s length bodies and the NHS Employers organisation, which represents trusts. Following evaluation of the pilot sites will be rolled out across the country.

Professor Cummings said: “More people are training to join the NHS every year and we remain on target in terms of overall recruitment, although there are still gaps in our nursing workforce.

“As frontline staff and services continue to face pressures from rising demand and more complex care, we know our workforce must continue to grow and adapt if it is to delivering diverse, high quality care to more patients than ever before,” she said.

NHS England

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Jane Cummings at the 2017 CNO summit in Birmingham

She added: “As a profession, nursing has always greatly benefited from the varied backgrounds and life experience of its staff.

“It’s vital we continue to attract the best and brightest graduates, offering additional entry routes and career opportunities, so that we can continue to deliver specialist, high quality care to all,” she said.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health, said: “As a registered mental health nurse myself, I am delighted to see that the Nurse First programme will provide more specialist mental health and learning disability nurses.”

The Royal College of Nursing also said it welcomed the initiative.

Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, highlighted the “critical shortage of nurses” currently in the NHS and warned that “unsafe staffing levels put high quality patient care at risk”.

“Measures to increase the number of registered nurses are very welcome and the ‘nurse first’ initiative is a positive way to attract talented graduates,” she said. “Nursing is a hugely rewarding, complex and responsible profession.

“It is crucial to focus on retaining nurses who are deciding to leave and offer flexible employment to encourage people to return to nursing in the NHS,” she added.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, which represents trusts, said: “We applaud the proposal of the ‘nurse first’ programme, a Teach First-style scheme designed to encourage people to enter careers in nursing.

“We are especially pleased to see this will begin with prioritising access to vital roles in mental health and learning disability,” he added.

The NHS Five Year Forward View Next Steps, published today, stated an overall ambition to increase the number of nurses in the NHS by 2020.

As well as the fast-track scheme, NHS England set out other measures designed to boost the nursing workforce, some of which were trailed at the CNO’s summit earlier this month.

Such measures include an initiative to boost the public profile of nursing and a plan to encourage more nurses to work in primary care settings, including in advanced roles.

Five Year Forward View Next Steps: Summary for nurses

Education and training – The number of newly qualified nurses available to be employed will increase by up to 2,200 more per year in 2019, as a result of expansion in nurse training places commissioned by HEE between 2013 and 2016.

Retention – Improving the number of nurses staying in the profession to the level of two years ago would mean around 4,000 more nurses per year. A new nurse retention collaborative run by NHS Improvement and NHS Employers will support 30 trusts with the highest turnover

Return to practice – There are over 50,000 registered nurses in England not currently working for the NHS. It takes three years and £50-70,000 to train a nurse, but only £2000 and three to twelve months to retrain a returning nurse. A further 1500-2000 nurses will be supported to return to work over the next two years

General Practice nursing – A 10-point plan for General Practice Nurses will be published in April that will support these nurses to further demonstrate their leadership and value in primary care. The actions will include improving recruitment and retention, return to practice opportunities and new advanced roles, as well as access to a programme of support and development. The £15m investment for GPNs identified in the General Practice Forward View will be aligned to this 10-point plan.

Profile and image of nursing – Nurses and midwives are the largest profession in this country with the largest reach. There is a wealth of competency, skill, experience and dedication but we need to work to consistently harness this talent to keep it alive and energised. The CNO will work with the wider system to champion a programme that brings together existing and future work actions that promote the image and pride in the nursing and midwifery professions.

New fast track ‘Nurse First’ programme – A Nurse First route to nursing, similar to the Teach First programme, will be created. It will provide financial support for graduates from other related disciplines to undertake a fast track “top up” programme to become a graduate registered nurse, in the first instance targeting mental health and learning disability nursing.

Support new advanced clinical practice nurse roles – HEE and NHS Improvement will publish a new national ACP framework, and deploy ACPs in trusts in the first instance where they can make a demonstrable impact in high priority areas such as A&E, cancer care, elective services or reducing locum costs by converting medical posts.

Use e-rostering and effective job planning – Building on successful pilot projects for nurses and healthcare support workers in 2016-17, NHS Improvement will publish guidance on electronic rostering to ensure high quality effective care at the bedside (measured by number of care hours delivered per patient according to their clinical needs). 


Readers' comments (12)

  • Where can I get more info to get onto this scheme?

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  • Nurses trained in a hurry. Just who you want looking after your mum.

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  • This sounds similar to the graduate scheme running in the 1980's. Disaster due to a high failure rate!!! I agree, Alex...just who you want looking after your mum!!

    Its a great shame that the NHS does not respect the experienced nurses who want to return to the NHS, by putting them on a crap salary, even though they have kept up to date and have been teaching nursing and involved closely with clinical practice.

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  • This one

    2nd rate training for mental health and learning disabilities.
    Just where the hell have these out of touch people been. More places at universities is the easy part, there arn't enough placements or are they just going to be graduates with no practice? My wife & I have been nurses many years, left nursing & no intention of returning, not respected and not paid enough. This is just more of the same underfund the NHS and de-professionalise nursing. Typical RCN like it. What a waste of space they all are.

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  • My degree is in another discipline. I did my nurse training as a postgraduate on a two year course. We completed the same number of clinical days as the three year degree course but submitted an extensive APL to cover some of the academic. I definitely do not consider my training rushed through or sub standard.

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  • Trained via two plus one scheme in the 1980s (two years training followed by year as intern). It was fine and not rushed. Still nursing after all this time and don't think either myself or those I've cared for over the years were short-changed....

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  • Alex Hancock

    I get that people might think of this as a shortcut into nursing but it's a bit unfair to knock it so early on. The nurses I know who are most resistant to change are coincidentally among the least clinically effective I know. Nursing should try to attract the brightest graduates. We expect that of law, medicine and banking, but instantly knock a scheme that tries to do the same for nursing. That says more about our own lack of regard for nursing.

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  • ALEX PARKER31 MARCH, 2017 8:57 PM

    Nurses trained in a hurry. Just who you want looking after your mum.

    Not just that, this says lets fast track those who weren't even bothered about nursing in the first place.

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  • I like to read the comments of my fellow nurses but often I am left with a sense of disappointment that some people so easily want to dis a newly announced initiative with ill thought through arguments! This is an eminently sensible idea and we should applaud approaches that enable us to grow our nursing numbers in different ways. Shortened programmes are not new and do not dilute our ability to care. I trained 40 years ago on a fast track programme and feel mums were safe in my care !( really! is this an evidence based argument!) It is good that CNO is championing this and ensuring it gets the right focus.

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  • Let's face it, the uptake is hardly likely to impact the numbers currently required to ensure safe staffing, given that graduates are more likely to achieve a higher salary elsewhere. It isn't about 'being bothered about nursing in the first place' as one of the above comments indicates. It is about attracting bright people into the profession who, for whatever reason, have chosen to pursue a career in nursing, rather than follow their original path. If a graduate wants to spend a few years in a thankless job which garners little or no respect from the public and other professions (teachers in particular, in my experience), work their backsides off for little reward, place their health at risk undertaking the ludicrous shift patterns (cancer much more likely in shift workers) then good luck to them!

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