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Nurse education needs a lifeline

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 49, PAGE NO: 31

Janet Gillan, MSc, RGN, NDNCert, DPSN

It is a relief to learn from a recent RCN survey (Akid, 2001), that most lecturers in nurse education have the same problems as I do. We are struggling to meet the demands placed upon us and worry that the quality of our work is being compromised, which is sad because teaching nursing students is rewarding for all concerned.

It is a relief to learn from a recent RCN survey (Akid, 2001), that most lecturers in nurse education have the same problems as I do. We are struggling to meet the demands placed upon us and worry that the quality of our work is being compromised, which is sad because teaching nursing students is rewarding for all concerned.

Press reports of the survey's findings made a change from the usual story of nurse education being held responsible by all and sundry for the problems in the health service, particularly in London and the South East. Sadly, blame is what we seem to get these days, be it for low standards of nursing care, shortages of staff or poor facilities.

Yet the causes of these problems lie elsewhere. It is possible that they result from badly thought through policies and their subsequent implementation, and never ending change for the sake of it. Apart from the obvious changes, such as cutting student numbers and axing foreign students' bursaries, another change springs to mind - the culling of clinical nurse teacher posts. Although, obviously, people's experiences of clinical nurse teachers differ, nurses generally bemoan their exit from nurse education.

Clinical nurse teachers are sorely missed by trained staff and lecturers, and the nursing students and patients they would have cared for have lost out very badly.

After the demise of clinical nurse teachers, nurse lecturers were expected to be all things to all people, clinical teachers, researchers and administrators as well as lecturers. The ideal staff-to-student ratio is one to 12, yet in many preregistration departments ratios are as high as one to 30 or 40.

Then there was the introduction of multiskilling, an attempt to turn us into jacks-of-all-trades. But who gains from that sort of strategy? Neither students nor lecturers benefit but presumably some money is saved in the short term.

The result is that lecturers are now spread very thinly on the ground in every area of learning, and the relationship between education and practice has been destroyed. I am lucky because clinical time is provided where I work.

The government's promise of 20,000 extra nurses by 2004 looks like an impossible dream when nurse education is in such a desperate state. Not only are there concerns over workloads in nurse education in London and the South East, but student recruitment and retention in many areas is also a significant problem.

Staff shortages are going to get worse as fewer nurses complete their education, and some hospitals are already at crisis point. The ministers responsible must immediately take action to rectify the situation. If they do not, they should be held accountable.

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