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News summary: All the top stories affecting nurses from December 2016 and early 2017

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Miss any of the news affecting the profession last month or during the first weeks of January 2017? Catch up with our summary of the main nursing headlines and clinical breakthroughs.

Round-up of last month’s main workforce and policy news

‘Fantastic’ demand from healthcare assistants wanting to become nursing associates

The demand from healthcare assistants wanting to take part in nursing associate training has been described as “fantastic” by the head of the workforce body leading the introduction of the new role.

NHS national director for quality Ian Cumming

Ian Cumming

Ian Cumming

Health Education England’s chief executive Ian Cumming said HCAs, both in the NHS and in social care, viewed the new role as an opportunity to improve their careers. He said there had also been “huge support” from universities and other academic providers for introducing the new role, designed to act as a bridge between HCAs and nurses.

At HEE’s latest board meeting on 13 December, Mr Cumming said: “We are getting some really dedicated and committed people – who have absolutely demonstrated the values and behaviours over the time they worked in the NHS and social care as part of the healthcare support workforce – who are now seeing this as an opportunity to be able to take forward their career.”

An initial 11 test sites will pilot the first wave of 1,000 nursing associate trainees in England from this month. A second group of 24 sites will also begin piloting the two-year programme with a further 1,000 trainees later this year.

In addition, Mr Cumming said another new bridging role that combines both nursing and therapy skills was set to be explored by HEE, once nursing associates were fully established.

He said: “As a board, we have talked previously about a demand that’s come from some parts of the service for this nurse therapist role – an individual who combines some of the skills of a therapist with some of the skills of a nurse.”


New draft staffing guidance keeps NICE ratio and promotes evidence-based tools

Generic hospital ward beds

Staff on hospital wards can continue to use the ratio of more than one nurse to eight patients as evidence of the point at which there is increased risk of harm during day shifts, according to a draft version of new national workforce guidance. However, the draft acute adult inpatient guidance, published in December by NHS Improvement, stressed that nurses should also note that no single nursing staff-to-patient ratio could be applied across all wards of the same type. Specifically, it recommends staffing levels should be calculated using an evidence-based workforce tool, as well as by comparing against other similar settings and through professional judgement.


Raft of top nurses recognised with new year honours



Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) medal

A number of top nurses were recognised in the 2017 New Year honours list. Professor Caroline Leigh Watkins, an expert in stroke and older people’s care at Central Lancashire University, and Professor Elizabeth Anionwu, the driving force behind the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal, both become dames. The Royal College of Nursing’s president Cecilia Anim gets a CBE, and Gail Adams, Unison’s former head of nursing, an OBE.


Barcode technology introduced as part of NHS safety initiative



The use of barcode technology on equipment has saved nurses’ time and trusts’ money according to early findings from an NHS pilot, the Department of Health has claimed. The technology, already used in other industries such as retail, has been brought in at six sites with items such as breast implants, replacement hips, medication and surgical tools. The Scan4Safety scheme allows faulty equipment to be traced and improves medical stock management by registering expiration dates.


NHS staff face ‘tinderbox’ of frustration and aggression

nurse with angrry patient

nurse anger ONE USE

Attacks on health service staff in England have risen sharply by over 2,500 in the past year, according to figures from the body which tackles crime in the NHS. NHS Protect found that in 2015-16, there were a total of 70,555 physical assaults on NHS staff reported. In the previous year, there were 67,864 physical assaults reported on staff. Chris Cox, the Royal College of Nursing’s director of membership relations, said: “With longer waits and the pressures of understaffed units, the atmosphere can become a tinderbox.”


Warning over ’inaccurate and incomplete’ nurse record keeping

Commissioning support woman clipboard

Copy of Commissioning support woman clipboard inspection

Patient care information is often being recorded by nurses in an “inaccurate, inconsistent, repetitive and incomplete” way, leading to potential safety concerns, a study has indicated. Research at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust found nurses sometimes completed records retrospectively without full knowledge that care had actually been completed. Missing information, errors and duplications were partly being caused by nurses feeling exasperated by the sheer amount of paperwork they had to complete, and the fact they believed it was often repetitive and took them away from patient care, according to researchers in the Journal of Research in Nursing.


Council takes over care home to cut discharge delays

West Berkshire Council/Care UK

Council takes over care home to cut discharge delays

Birchwood Care Home

West Berkshire Council has announced that it will take over a 60-bed care home, with the aim using part of it to expand rehabilitation capacity and speed up hospital discharge. The local authority will take on the running of the Birchwood Care Home, near Newbury, from Care UK on 1 June this year. The home is currently operated under contract by Care UK. The council said it would use around 10 beds to provide more rehabilitation for hospital patients ready for discharge.


New matron role to work with 20 Midlands care homes

Staffordshire Moorlands view from the Roaches

Staffordshire Moorlands

Staffordshire Moorlands

A matron has started working with 20 Staffordshire care homes this month with the aim of reducing unplanned hospital admissions by 10% and improving workforce recruitment and retention via education and support. Stoke-on-Trent Clinical Commissioning Group and North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group have appointed Esther Whitton as “care home matron” for the 12-month project, with the option of potentially extending it.


CNO’s BME leadership group on lookout for new chair

CNO Summit 2014

Panel debate on diversity in leadership

Joan Myers

Senior nurses are being encouraged to apply to lead the chief nursing officer for England’s black and minority ethnic strategic advisory group, after its current chair Joan Myers steps down later this year. CNO Jane Cummings said the role offered an “exciting opportunity”.


Former NHS trust chief exec to lead nursing education and research charity

Florence Nightingale Foundation

New chief exec for Florence Nightingale Foundation

Ursula Ward

The Florence Nightingale Foundation has appointed Ursula Ward as its new chief executive. The former NHS nursing director and chief executive, who will start on 13 February, noted she was joining the nurse education and research charity at a time when strong nurse leadership and a strong academic base “has never been more paramount”. She replaces Professor Elizabeth Robb.


Refurbished headstone unveiled for RCN founder

Royal College of Nursing

Refurbished headstone unveiled for RCN founder

Grave of Dame Sidney Browne

A refurbished headstone has been unveiled for the grave of the Royal College of Nursing’s founder member and first president. Dame Sidney Browne, who is buried in Cheltenham, was the founding of the College of Nursing in 1916 and its first president from 1922-25. It became the RCN in 1928.


Game aims to prepare new nurses for life on the ward

Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Foundation Trust

Game aims to prepare new nurses for life on the ward

The Ward Game

Nurse trainers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn Foundation Trust have developed a game to teach students on placement and newly-qualified staff about “real-life scenarios”. They have created a mini ward and Top Trump-style profiles for fictional ward staff. Using a variety of scenarios, the Ward Game challenges people to think how they would handle certain situations before they started work on the wards. Practice development nurse Adrian Debney said: “While the game is a novel idea, there is a sound theory behind it.”


Round-up of last month’s main clinical and practice news

NICE backs drug over inhalers as step-up treatment for poorly controlled asthma

Asthma patients should in future be prescribed a leukotriene receptor antagonist as an intermediate step-up between a preventer inhaler and a combination inhaler, if their condition is poorly controlled.

In new draft guidelines, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends a major change in current practice for treating asthma patients that it claims could save millions of pounds.


The proposals, available for consultation until 16 February, said patients should be offered an LTRA earlier than at present. Current practice is to offer newly diagnosed patients a reliever inhaler to use when they experience symptoms.

If asthma is poorly controlled, patients are given a preventer inhaler and then either an inhaler combining the preventer drug with another long-acting medicine or an LTRA. NICE has now said the LTRA tablet – costing 7p per day – should be offered before the combination inhaler.

It said the evidence for combination inhalers and LTRAs showed they were both clinically effective when used as a step-up treatment. But due to its lower price, NICE concluded that LTRAs were significantly more cost-effective and would be better value for money for the NHS.

NICE has estimated that £3m a year could be saved for every 10,000 patients treated according to the new recommendation.

Professor Mark Baker, director of the NICE centre for guidelines said: “We recognise that these new recommendations represent a change to current practice. However, it is a change that is likely to save the NHS millions each year.”


Two thirds of asthma patients ‘still not receiving basic care’, warns charity

man ipad tablet computer

man ipad tablet computer

The charity Asthma UK has called for a “bold, new approach” to improving basic care that takes advantage of new technology such as digital action plans, smart inhalers, and automated alerts. Two thirds of patients are still not receiving the basic care they need to manage their asthma, according to the charity’s annual survey. For example, the survey of 4,650 asthma patients suggested 70% of those admitted to hospital were not given a follow-up appointment with a nurse or GP, which the charity said was “essential” for preventing readmission.


Nurse-led helplines considered ‘integral’ to cancer care

Nurse working phone

Nurse working phone

Patients believe they cannot get “optimal” support for coping with cancer without having access to nurse-led charity helplines on top of information routinely provided by the NHS, according to researchers. In the journal Supportive Care in Cancer, they said nurse-led helplines plugged gaps in access to information from healthcare providers, as well as providing new avenues of expert advice for patients. The study authors concluded that cancer information and support nurses acted as “expert navigators, educators and compassionate communicators”.


NHS hospitals report ulcer reduction with scanner

United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust

Exclusive: Technology may transform ulcer care, says nurse

SEM Scanner

A hand-held scanner device that can detect early skin damage potentially leading to the formation of a pressure ulcer has been used successfully in NHS hospitals. Real-world data from 13 hospitals shows half were able to eliminate the occurrence of new ulcers completely, according to Bruin Biometrics, which manufactures the technology. Last year, Nursing Times revealed that UK nursing teams were trialling the SEM Scanner, which was originally the brainchild of a US nurse.


‘Game-changing’ bag for transferring critically ill patients

NHS North West London Critical Care Network

‘Game-changing’ bag for transferring critically ill patients

Patient Transfer Bag

Emergency and intensive care nurses in part of London are now using a standard kit bag to transfer patients that is expected to save units up to eight hours a week. The NHS North West London Critical Care Network has rolled out 70 of the “game-changing” bags, which allow for easy access to equipment via clear plastic pockets and a range of other features. Catherine Forsythe, practice educator and nurse at the Royal Marsden Hospital’s critical care unit, said: “Before the Patient Transfer Bag, it took me 20 minutes to make sure that all the right equipment was packed whenever we did our regular checks. With this new design, it takes me well under 10 minutes.” Design and inventory details of the new bag have been published in the Journal of the Intensive Care Society.


RCN backs animal therapy for improving patient health

Horse kiss

Horse kiss

The Royal College of Nursing is calling for better and more consistent access to animals for all patients who can benefit. Nine out of 10 nurses believed animals could improve the health of patients with depression and other mental health problems, suggested an RCN survey. It also found that more than 80% of respondents thought animals could improve communication for those with learning difficulties and that animals – dogs in particular – encouraged patients to be more physically active, while nearly 60% said just the presence of animals seemed to speed physical recovery.


Rotavirus vaccine ‘sparks sharp fall in practice visits’

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Rotavirus vaccine ‘sparks fall in practice visits’


There has been a sharp fall in primary care visits for acute gastroenteritis following the introduction of rotavirus vaccination in England, according to researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Public Health England. Their study, published in the journal Vaccine, estimated that 87,000 general practice and hospital visits have been avoided, as well as £12.5m in healthcare costs, since the UK-wide rotavirus vaccination programme was introduced in 2013.


Early cognitive therapy offers hope for young with PTSD

Child in hospital

Child in hospital - mental health

Early cognitive therapy treatment is effective for children and adolescents with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study by the University of East Anglia. Writing in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, researchers said cognitive therapy could be effective for 8-17 year-olds during the two- to six-month “early treatment window” after a traumatic event. They found 71% of patients were free of PTSD after cognitive therapy, compared with 27% who did not receive it.

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