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New Year’s resolutions on navigating all the nursing changes in 2017

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It’s the point in the year when we get to wipe the slate clean and start all over again with a set of goals – it’s time for the dreaded New Year’s Resolution list compilation.

Aside from the usual pledges to ‘eat more healthily’ and ‘go to the gym more often/for the first time despite committing to it for several previous years’, nurses may also be considering setting themselves some professional resolutions.

But based on the year just gone, there are so many issues to tackle that it’s hard to know where to start planning improvements in 2017.

Let’s begin with the removal of student bursaries in England. In 2016 the government rubberstamped plans to end free tuition for pre-registration nursing and midwifery courses from autumn 2017. Universities have already warned of a 20% dip in some regions, but as nursing courses are usually very popular it’s not yet clear whether this will result in fewer trainees nationally.

But wait. If aspirant nurses don’t fancy taking out full tuition and maintenance loans for the three-year degree they could opt for another brand new training route being introduced next year, namely degree-level nursing apprenticeships.

“In 2017 the government should be publishing a plan about how to improve placements”

The deal is that apprentices can earn money while they learn. However, the expectation is that only up to around a 1,000 will eventually be trained per year – a small proportion of the annual 22,000 or so students that enrol on nursing degrees at the moment – and it will take four years to complete.

So suggested resolution number one is for nurses to encourage colleagues who are thinking about joining the profession to explore all training routes possible. (And to advise them to construct a competitive application if opting for an apprenticeship.)

Related to this, in 2017 the government should be publishing a plan about how to improve placements. It was originally due in the autumn last year, so let’s hope the delay is a sign that care is being taken to redesign the system that is struggling under the weight of supporting students in often understaffed environments.

“Next year we will also get to see the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s draft new standards for nurse education”

Resolution number two? Pray the strategy comes up with a way to drive more funding towards nurse and midwifery placements, and improves the quality of the experience for both staff and trainees.

Next year we will also get to see the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s draft new standards for nurse education when they go to consultation in the spring, ready for implementation in a couple of years. This will be followed by work on midwifery education standards as well, drafted for 2018.

We know that in nurse training, a reduction to placement hours is being considered, and a stronger grounding in both physical and mental health care, but other elements are still being teased out.

If you want to find out more about how the new standards are expected to affect the profession, your third resolution is to read Nursing Times’ exclusive interview with the regulator’s head of education in our January edition, which will have all the details.

Staffing-wise, in 2017 there will be new guidance for England about how to set nurse – and multi-disciplinary team – workforce levels being rolled out by NHS Improvement. (This is the same programme that the body took over from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in 2015 after the work was controversially suspended just as NICE was about to publish recommended staffing ratios for A&E.)

“The need for evidence-based tools to work out minimum staffing numbers and skill mix was recommended in the Francis Inquiry”

You might have missed the first two documents – a revisit of NICE’s guidance on acute adult inpatient ward staffing, and a new one on learning disability settings – released just a few days before Christmas.

So resolution number four is to keep your eyes peeled. The need for evidence-based tools to work out minimum staffing numbers and skill mix was recommended in the Francis Inquiry so these are important ones to look out for – and they’ll be specific to different settings, including mental health, community and emergency care.

Lastly, this year, nurses working across the NHS, in social care and at other care providers in England are likely to see new team members joining them. They will be trained in a role designed to sit between healthcare assistants and nurses – a move that has sparked lots of debate over safety concerns and whether nurses might be substituted. In case you’re still wondering what I’m referring to, these are the trainee nursing associates. Just over 2,000 will embark on a two-year programme in 2017.

It’s only a pilot scheme at present though. So if four resolutions isn’t enough already, a final one might be to get involved in understanding how the role is going to operate on the ground and whether it actually improves patient care.

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