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NHS bosses to explore 'innovative' clinical placements for students

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NHS England has pledged to review clinical placement activity for nursing students and explore whether innovative approaches, such as group coaching, will help boost the number of undergraduates signing up to the profession.

Health bosses have also announced action to tackle “barriers” for future student intakes and to establish a “stronger culture” of support for students during their studies in order to ensure they want to remain working in the NHS when they qualify.

“The experience of students during education and on placements plays an important role in the decisions they make on their future careers”

NHS People Plan

The moves are set out in the long-awaited Interim NHS People Plan (see attached PDF below), previously known as the Workforce Implementation Plan, which aims to address workforce challenges that the health service is currently facing.

In a chapter titled “tackling the nursing shortage”, the plan outlines ways and actions in which it intends to address nurse vacancies among the health service.

As part of this, the chapter explores what can be done to increase the supply of undergraduates entering the workforce and to improve student experience.

The 76-page document, published today, notes that higher education institutes have highlighted placement capacity as a barrier to increasing current intake levels.

Therefore, as well as keeping to its promise of expanding the number of clinical placement capacity by 25%, the plan noted that NHS leaders would also consider innovative approaches to delivering placements.

It states that the health service will explore whether using a Collaborative Learning in Practice approach that is based on group coaching, will enable a “positive experience for patients and students and train greater numbers of nurses”.

This model of learning, which originated in Amsterdam, helps students to support each other using coaching strategies, as well as being coached.

NHS England has vowed that during 2019-20, it will undertake a “more comprehensive review of current clinical placement activity, identify outliers and provide support to remove barriers to expansion for future intakes”.

“We need to develop a stronger culture of support during their studies”

NHS People Plan

The interim plan flagged that this will include looking at options for expanding the provision of placements in primary and social care, and explore how innovative approaches and best practice can support student uptake.

While moves to increase clinical placement capacity were “vital” to tackling nurse shortages, health leaders warned that this was “only one side of the equation”, flagging the fall in course applications since the removal of the bursary in 2016.

As a result, the plan vows to “work with national partners to consolidate the current recruitment” and develop a single campaign that “reflects the realities of a career in modern nursing at the cutting edge of clinical practice”.

In addition, the plan highlights the importance of improving student experience and reducing attrition to ensure that, once qualified, they take up a career in the NHS.

It states: “The experience of students during their time in education and on their clinical placements plays an important role in defining the decisions they make on their future careers.

“To ensure that students want to remain in the NHS after their studies, we need to develop a stronger culture of support during their studies,” it adds.

Meanwhile, the document also pays attention to supporting students financially in their studies.

The People Plan references the “Learning Support Fund” (LSF), provided by the Department of Health and Social Care and administered by the NHS Business Services Authority, and notes a lack of student awareness for the funding.

According to the plan, the LSF is available to the “vast majority” of those studying pre-registration undergraduate and postgraduate nurses, midwifery and advanced health practitioner degrees, though the funding has not been “accessed to the levels expected”.

“The plan stops short of recommending additional support”

Katerina Kolyva

It states: “Anecdotal evidence suggests this reflects lack of awareness of what support is available to students, together with problems that some students experience with the LSF application process.”

As a result of this, the plan pledges to take action to help inform the full people plan, which is due after the government’s spending review, and work with the DHSC to review and identify how financial support programmes through LSF can be improved.

Responding to the plan, Dr Katerina Kolyva, executive director of the Council of Deans, said there is “much to welcome” in the interim plan.

She noted that the council had been working closely with NHS England and NHS Improvement since the publication of the NHS Long Term Plan earlier this year.

Dr Kolyva said: “We know universities will work collaboratively with local employers to recruit extra students where additional capacity is found, but it is important to note that additional placements will not necessarily translate into a commensurate increase in student numbers, particularly this late in the recruitment cycle.”

“While the plan does acknowledge the need to increase understanding and uptake of existing financial support for students it stops short of recommending additional support, such as maintenance grants, to attract and retain students,” she said. “This is a missed opportunity which should certainly be addressed through the full People Plan.”

“Although the focus of the interim plan is on urgent action to tackle nursing shortages, we will want to see further concrete action to support growth of the allied health professions workforce,” she said.

“We look forward to working with national bodies to promote and expand these professions in line with population needs,” she added.

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