Nurses are being denied training opportunities that keep them up to date in their clinical practice due to a combination of winter pressures, staff shortages and funding cuts, the Royal College of Nursing has warned in a new report.
The college said staff were at risk of falling behind with the latest clinical developments – including in the treatment of heart disease, cancer and diabetes – and patient safety was at risk, as a result.
“For the sake of patient safety, nurses must be allowed to keep up-to-date with developments”
In some cases, nurses could end up not being able to remain on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s register, the RCN noted in its report published today during its annual congress taking place in Belfast.
Revalidation requirements set by the regulator meant nurses must complete 35 hours of continuing professional development training every three years to stay on the NMC’s register and be able to practise.
The NMC will also be introducing new education standards for pre-registration students across the UK from January 2019 that aim to “significantly develop skill and competence levels” among newly qualified nurses.
“The current lack of CPD funding presents a real risk to the successful implementation of the new [education] standards”
RCN report on CPD
Existing nurses will be expected to supervise these students while on placement and must have access to CPD training to ensure they can provide coaching to the appropriate standard, said the RCN.
“The current lack of CPD funding presents a real risk to the successful implementation of the new standards,” said the RCN’s report – titled Investing in a Safe and Effective Workforce: Continuing professional development for nurses in the UK.
In England, workforce development funding – largely used for CPD for nurses – has been cut by Health Education England by 60% in two years, from 205m in 2015, to £83.49m in 2017. The budget for 2018-19 has been frozen, at £83.49m, as previously reported by Nursing Times.
- Health Education England cuts ‘put nurse CPD at risk’
- National CPD budget set to initially remain frozen by HEE in 2018
In Northern Ireland, the absence of a government means an interim post-registration education budget for 2018-19 has been set by the Department of Health, but it has not been made public yet, said the RCN.
National data on CPD is not available in Scotland and Wales, but health boards in the latter country have in the past refused to release nursing staff from their shifts to complete ongoing training, said the report.
An unpublished RCN survey from 2017 found that 35% of nurses in Wales, 27% in Scotland, 24% in Northern Ireland, and 14% in England had not been able to complete mandatory training, such as on blood transfusion processes or hand hygiene.
This trend suggested that other forms of CPD that help nurses to develop specialist skills in their existing roles or move into new ones was also proving hard to access, said the RCN.
Nurses have told the college that, even if funding were available for CPD training, it was unlikely they would be able to attend due to winter pressures, staff shortages, increased patient loads and staff sickness.
The RCN said it was calling for ring-fenced additional, dedicated funding for nurse CPD in all health and care sectors.
“Policymakers and employers must find a way to fund and guarantee this time”
In England, the Commons health select committee has “expressly acknowledged” the need for investment, the college’s report noted.
All bodies in healthcare education funding and workforce development must also urgently publish data on total funding allocations for CPD, training undertaken and workforce needs, said the college.
Meanwhile, employers in every setting across the UK must ensure access to CPD and guarantee protected time for it, the RCN added.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: “Nurses make up half the NHS workforce and, as a society, we cannot afford for their training to be an optional extra. These short-sighted cuts must be reversed.”
“For the sake of patient safety, nurses must be allowed to keep up-to-date with developments and advance into tomorrow’s nurse leadership positions,” said Ms Davies.
“Policymakers and employers must find a way to fund and guarantee this time. Nurses must not be allowed to fall foul of the regulator’s requirement,” she said.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The NHS would collapse without our wonderful nurses – the fact that the NHS is ranked as the safest healthcare system in the world is a testament to their skill and dedication.
“It’s essential that individual NHS employers – who remain responsible for funding this specific type of training – support staff to develop and grow their skills, so that they can meet the requirements of their role,” he added.