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Exclusive: Education plans 'crack' mental and physical training problem, says NMC chief

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New education standards drawn up by the Nursing and Midwifery Council have “cracked” the challenge of incorporating mental and physical healthcare training, according to the head of the regulator.

Previously, concerns had been raised that nurses were not given an equal grounding in the two elements because they specialised early on in the course.

“We are setting standards that enable nurses to have a broad range of competence. It is not about trying to address narrow areas of specialty”

Jackie Smith

In an interview with Nursing Times to mark today’s consultation launch on changes to pre-registration education, NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said the plans would enable future graduates to work across a range of specialties rather than just one area.

However, responding to previous concerns that the proposals could lead to a dilution of specialist training, she said she believed that students would still be able to spend sufficient time learning about their chosen field of practice – in either adult, children’s, mental health or learning disability nursing.

She said the plans – which feature a number of major changes, including more drug prescribing theory – had gained the support of all of the UK’s chief nursing officers so far, as well as many members of the profession.

She stressed that the regulator now wanted to hear from as many nurses as possible – as well as members of the public – adding that the NMC was launching a “genuinely open” consultation.

Ms Smith said there was “nothing wrong” with the NMC’s current standards, but due to the changing way health and social care was being delivered it was time to set out what would be required in the future.

This included challenging the “traditional view of nursing”, which was that nurses were in hospitals delivering care, she noted.

“We are setting standards that enable nurses to have a broad range of competence,” she said. “It is not about trying to address particular, narrow areas of specialty, it is a broad range of skills and competence.

“That is what is different and that is what we are consulting on,” she told Nursing Times.

The plans, published in draft in council papers last month, include an extensive list of technical skills that all nurses will be required to learn, as well as a list of communication skills – regardless of their field of practice.

These include skills such as nasal tube insertion, injection of intravenous drugs, insertion of catheters, management of electrocardiograms, and blood component transfusions.

The document also indicates which fields of nursing will require more advanced teaching in certain skills.

In addition, the NMC has laid out a series of proposed changes to the way nursing courses are delivered.

“We’ve heard the quality of simulation available can very well provide the sort of level of experience and understanding required”

Jackie Smith

It wants to allow universities to be able to increase the amount of time that is spent on simulation activities, by increasing the cap from 300 to 1,150 hours – half of the total amount of time students spend in practice in a three-year degree.

Ms Smith said the majority of people that the NMC had spoken to, while developing the proposals over the past 18 months, had wanted to see an increase in simulation.

“What we’ve heard is the quality of simulation available during training can very well provide the sort of level of experience and understanding that would be required,” she said.

Today’s consultation is also expected to ask nurses whether they believe the NMC should continue to set a limit of how far nursing degrees can be shortened, based on a student’s previous learning.

Currently, trainees can gain a nursing degree in 18 months – half the time of the usual three-year course – if their prior learning or experience can be accredited and counted towards their qualification.

Nursing Times asked if the NMC was looking at whether this limit should be removed, because it would enable universities to allow new nursing associate programmes to lead into nursing degrees more quickly.

“APEL is always an area where people have strong views on what can and can’t be done”

Jackie Smith

Ms Smith said such a move was “a leap too far” and that the NMC wanted to hear views on the issue to ensure it was supporting widening participation.

“Accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) is always an area where people have strong views on what can and can’t be done,” she said. “We want to know what the views are on APEL, bearing in mind we have a commitment to widening participation.

The NMC’s consultation on pre-registration education standards launches on 13 June and runs until 12 September.

The regulator will be running a series of engagement events including webinars, Twitter chats and workshops across the UK over the next three months.

It is expected to launch a second consultation on its new standards for medicines management and prescribing in the coming days.

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