Students studying adult and children’s nursing should all be given the option to complete a module in neonatal care, according to education chiefs as part of newly revealed plans to transform the maternity workforce in England.
This elective course should offer students the chance to work on units providing these services to pique their interest in transferring to the specialty once qualified, they added.
“This strategy seeks to provide the support that our staff so desperately need2
The recommendation is included in a new maternity workforce strategy released today by national body Health Education England.
The HEE report said: “Providing nurses in training with the opportunity to experience neonatal nursing is likely to increase awareness of and interest in the speciality.
“Training should reflect the importance of building both competence and resilience for what can be both clinically and emotionally demanding work,” it added.
“Therefore, training opportunities should provide graduated exposure to neonatal care settings starting with those babies whose clinical situation is the most stable and least complex,” it said.
HEE is also recommending that neonatal units should have a supernumerary senior nurse on each shift to manage the unit and ensure it is safely staffed.
The organisation will provide “ongoing monitoring” of future demand and support for neonatal nurses, the document highlighted.
The strategy – called Transforming the Maternity Workforce – also lays out plans for boosting the number of midwives in England.
These include reducing the number of whole-time equivalent midwives leaving the NHS from between 800 and 850 per year to 650 and 700.
In addition, HEE wants to increase participation in return to practice schemes in midwifery from 50 to around 100 per year.
This will build on the commitment already made by HEE to expand midwifery training places by 25% over the next four years, providing 350 extra staff by 2022-23 and just under 550 in each of the following three years.
The strategy also includes an ambition to create a new competency, career and education development framework for maternity support workers (MSWs). It also reveals plans to “develop and implement a higher level HSW roles” by March 2020.
HEE is aspiring to improve retention of MSWs, noting that 12% of the support workforce for nursing and midwifery currently leave their job annually.
The strategy includes a focus on workforce development with plans revealed for new leadership programmes for maternity staff.
HEE is proposing that a new two-day programme is rolled out to cover ways of working to provide “continuity of carer”, which means mothers are cared for by the same small group of professionals.
It also wants to increase access to neonatal speciality training so that 70% of the nursing establishment in these units can achieve and maintain “qualified in speciality status” year-on-year.
A new programme of support will also be introduced for “local maternity systems” helping regional teams with workforce analysis and planning.
The strategy also includes plans for development of the wider maternity workforce such as obstetricians, gynaecologists and sonographers.
HEE will fund the creation of an obstetric physician role, will improve participation in obstetrics and gynaecology return to practice training by 5-10% and increase the sonographer pipeline.
In a foreword to the report, Sarah-Jane Marsh, chief executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and chair of NHS England’s Maternity Transformation Programme Board, said: “This strategy seeks to provide the support that our staff so desperately need, by commissioning the supply of workforce required, and helping to facilitate teams to work differently and more flexibly in an environment that enables learning and progression.”
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Welcoming the strategy, Gill Walton, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said all the initiatives in the report “point to an even brighter future” for maternity staff and the families who used them.
David Farrelly, regional director for HEE in the Midlands and East and lead on Maternity Workforce Transformation, said: “We need to do all we can to make sure that everyone working in maternity services has the support and resources they need to deliver high quality care to every woman and their babies.
“Having a baby in England has never been safer but we need to make sure we have the right numbers but also the high quality and correct skill mix to make our services more personalised and consistently safe,” he added.
“I believe the measures outlined in this strategy will help do just that,” he said.
The workforce strategy builds on the findings from the 2016 Better Births report, which results from the major review of maternity services instigated by NHS England boss Simon Stevens following the publication of the Five Year Forward View.
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It aims to supports the delivery of the government’s ambition to halve the rate of stillbirths and neonatal and maternal deaths in England.
HEE is also working with partners to develop a longer-term workforce strategy beyond 2021.