The nursing regulator looks set to consult on new standards for return to practice that could make it easier for nurses to come back to the profession after a career break.
The move comes amid concern the current standards are outdated and may be “creating unnecessary barriers” for those seeking to come back to nursing as well as contributing to staffing shortages.
“We will be consulting on whether it would be safe and proportionate for us to rely on any form of self-declaration”
Options include developing more flexible re-training programmes, allowing nurses to prove their skills through a competency test, or letting some nurses “self-declare” they have the skills to rejoin the register.
Under the current Nursing and Midwifery Council standards for RtP, nurses and midwives are required to complete an approved re-training programme if they have been off the register for more than five years.
The standards also apply to nurses and midwives who are on the register but have not completed the set number of hours of practice required revalidate.
A report to the NMC’s governing body shows around 1,000 nurses and midwives are readmitted to the register each year via RtP programmes.
This also shows the NMC has approved nearly 90 different RtP schemes for nursing and midwifery, although the report says the regulator “cannot be sure” how many of these are actually up and running.
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The report goes on to explain that the RtP standards are out of date because they do not reflect changes in nursing education and proficiency standards.
In the light of this, a proposal to consult on new standards for RtP in September this year will be put to the NMC council at a meeting this week.
Plans to update the standards, which will also apply to nursing associates, come amid a drive to encourage more people to come back to nursing in a bid to address widespread staffing shortages.
Health Education England has launched a dedicated RtP recruitment campaign to tackle anticipated shortages of practice nurses.
Meanwhile, employers are working with education providers to offer work-based schemes to refresh training and fill local vacancies.
“The standards would allow education institutions to map an individual’s proficiency and knowledge skills gaps”
Current issues include the fact the RtP standards do not distinguish between those who wish to re-join the register after a period out of nursing and those who wish to revalidate with a minimal shortfall in the practice hours needed.
In such circumstances “self-declaration” – which is already used by other professional regulators such as the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Health and Care Professionals Council, which regulates social workers – may be an option.
“We will be consulting on whether there are any instances where it would be safe and proportionate for us to rely on any form of self-declaration or certification by another registered healthcare professional in relation to retraining which aligns with proficiencies for the nursing and midwifery professions,” said the report.
This would offer “improved flexibility” by allowing applicants to submit a declaration and individual portfolio, it said.
“This option would be a new route to renewing registration or rejoining our register without the required practice hours with a reduction in the level of assurance, so it will be important to consult on whether there are any instances where it might be appropriate,” added the document.
Other options include the creation of more flexible RtP programmes based on achieving core proficiencies for nurses and midwives to be launched next year.
“The standards would allow the approved education institutions to map an individual’s proficiency and knowledge skills gaps and practice learning partners would facilitate achievement of proficiencies,” said the report.
“It brings the benefit of an approved period of re-training and allows for supervised practice learning,” it said.
“It brings the benefit of an approved period of re-training and allows for supervised practice learning”
Finally, the consultation will look at whether a test of competence (ToC) – like the one currently used for overseas nurses – should be available as an alternative to doing a full re-training programme.
The test for nurses trained outside Europe includes a computer-based test and a clinical examination for the relevant field of practice, with the cost met by employers or individuals.
The NMC would create a new ToC to fit in with the new Future Nurse and nursing associate standards, said the report.
“The ToC does not offer opportunities for refreshing practice and building confidence in practice settings, but may be an attractive option for those looking to return to the UK register after a period working overseas or those who the future who have qualified under the new education standards,” it added.
If agreed by the NMC council, the consultation will run from September to October, with draft standards released in March 2019 and the final version published in May of that year.