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NMC plans 'too focussed on physical health and hospital tasks', says mental health expert

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New pre-registration training standards will not provide nurses with the equal grounding in physical and mental healthcare skills they require, academics have said amid claims by the regulator that its plans have “cracked” the challenge.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council published its plans for consultation earlier this week, in a bid to provide a radical overhaul of pre-registration training for nurses of the future.

“The NMC’s vision for the future of nursing continues to be driven by a long list of hospital-focussed, physical health tasks”

Steven Pryjmachuk

Previously, concerns had been raised that nurses were not taught the fundamental skills in both physical and mental health, because university courses often focussed on their specialist field of practice.

The head of the NMC said in an interview with Nursing Times this week that she believed the problem would now be solved.

Under the plans, graduates would be able to work across a range of areas, rather than being restricted to one, she also said.

The new standards of proficiency require all nurses – regardless of their specialist field of practice, in either adult, children’s, mental health or learning disability nursing – to be competent in a listed range of technical and communication skills.

However, a group of mental health nursing academics has claimed the skills are still too focused on physical healthcare and those required for working in hospitals.

In an opinion article for Nursing Times, the chair of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK (MHNAUK), which represents more than 65 universities delivering mental health nursing education, said this meant the new standards still lacked parity.

“MHNAUK fully accepts that all nurses need fundamental mental and physical health skills,” said Professor Steven Pryjmachuk.

“But the NMC’s vision for the future of nursing – with a supposed focus on promotion, prevention and early intervention – continues to be driven by a long list of hospital-focused, physical health tasks, and the putative mental health elements in the annexes are not articulated especially well,” he said.

steven pryjmachuk mhnauk

steven pryjmachuk mhnauk

Steven Pryjmachuk

He highlighted that a technical skill, such as signposting people to debt advice, was an important part of providing care for people with mental health problems.

But this was not included in the NMC’s new standards, whereas the ability to carry out chest auscultation and interpret findings did feature in them, he said.

Professor Pryjmachuk said he would be raising the group’s concerns in its response to the NMC’s consultation, which started on Monday.

However, he did say the proposed standards “offer some real opportunities,” due to plans to change how mentoring works, the potential for more teaching through simulation, and the possibility of a national practice assessment document being introduced.

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