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Nursing course standards to be made public

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Aspiring nursing students across England will for the first time be able to identify potentially failing courses, under plans expected to be come into force next year, Nursing Times can reveal.

National pilots based on a scheme pioneered by NHS London could begin as early as April next year, Nursing Times understands.

Under its Quality Assurance system, which started in December, the SHA has been measuring higher education healthcare courses across London against a set of quality indicators, which includes attrition rates. Courses are ranked and given a ‘traffic-light’ rating.

The first results for nursing and midwifery courses - covering the 2007–2008 academic year - are now available and are to be published this week. All nursing courses in London have been rated as ‘amber’, which means they have been deemed to have areas of concern where improvements need to be made (see box).

The system is designed to complement an NMC monitoring scheme, which assesses academic content of courses.

Each institution in London is now required to come up with an action plan to improve the QA rating of its nursing course, which will be reassessed next year.

Anne Rainsberry, NHS London’s people and organisational director, said: ‘We have set the standards in terms of where we want them to be – and most of them are not actually where we want them to be.

‘If you have problems with recruitment, if you have problems with attrition, you have to draw up an action plan,’ she said. ‘The action plans are geared towards individual challenges which each university faces.’

Trish Morris-Thompson, chief nurse at NHS London, said that when the scheme was piloted beyond the capital it would provide transparent information for more potential students trying to choose a nursing course.

‘If you were an individual looking to start a nursing or midwifery career, you could look at these quality statistics to make your own decision about what is the best organisation,’ she said.

‘It gives an opportunity to make an informed choice about which university you want to take your training at,’ said Ms Morris Thompson.

Ms Rainsberry added that officials at the Department of Health hoped that the expansion of the scheme could be used as a way to reduce attrition rates in nursing courses in England.

The latest figures from SHAs, supplied to Nursing Times by the Department of Health, show that nearly 20% of students in the last year of their course dropped out in 2007–2008. This is around 25% in London. 

However, academics have opposed the roll-out of the scheme because of the workload involved.

Paul Turner, executive officer of the Council of Deans for Health, said: ‘It will be unworkable if it is as burdensome as the London scheme. The amount of senior staff time that was required to implement the London scheme was quite horrific.’

‘We are in grave danger of “quality assuring” out quality because of the amount of staff time involved in it,’ he said.

Commenting on the scheme, RCN education adviser Betty Kershaw said: ‘Nurse education and training has to be absolutely first class, and patients must know that the nurses who treat them are well trained and ready to fulfil their important roles. For nurse training and education to be seen to reach this standard it must be regulated in a way that is open and easily understood.’

But she added: ‘What we shouldn’t have is too many systems which tie up university staff when they could otherwise spend more time developing their teaching and supporting students.’

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