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'Nurse education standards must be prioritised'

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Institutions providing pre-registration courses for nursing students have a duty to make sure they are of a high quality and provide students with all they need to ensure they make excellent nurses at the end of their three years of training.

That should be an obvious thing to say. But I do worry that the fact that student nurses will now have to pay for their own education from September 2017 will mean less scrupulous education providers might be tempted to go for quantity over quality, in order to keep their revenues high.

Students working hard and paying for their own education also deserve to get the very best experience, and this should not be a time to cut corners in their training.

“The government has indicated that removing the bursary will help to see an end to the nursing workforce shortage”

Of course, the biggest worry is placements. The government has indicated that removing the bursary will help to see an end to the nursing workforce shortage as they hope 10,000 more student nurses will be in training from this intake. I’d be willing to bet that as admissions officers count their applications for September next year, some might feel that predicted figure feels a little optimistic. But even if the government’s imagined panacea of a world populated full of students all eager to nurse is true, there will be the issue of where they do their placements.

According to the Nursing and Midwifery Council, there has been an increase in the number of establishments applying to run pre-registration nursing courses, and two new ones have already been approved. They won’t release figures on exactly how many more have applied, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this will put a strain on placement provision.

“31 out of 77 universities that were providing pre-registration courses said placement capacity was an issue”

Even with fewer universities and fewer students, 31 out of 77 universities that were providing pre-registration courses said placement capacity was an issue. This situation will only get worse if the number of students rises.

This week, I visited Nottingham University, whose students have created a series of peer-led clinical skills drop-in sessions for first years. Second and third years offer first year students the chance to practise clinical skills, such as wound dressing, hand washing, taking blood pressures and CPR, in order to make them feel more comfortable performing these skills in front of an audience. Indications are that students feel more at ease carrying out these procedures or asking questions about them with their peers, rather than academic staff – although educators are always on hand in the sessions to demonstrate and answer complex questions.

“A good university works in partnership with its students”

The sessions are popular and students report feeling better prepared for exams as a result. While the initiative is waiting to be fully evaluated, it does indicate that a good university works in partnership with its students, providing opportunities for clinical skills to be practised ahead of going out on placements and ensuring students are confident. It is the sort of quality initiative that should be supported, celebrated and copied.

I think that universities are going to have to introduce more initiatives like this to ensure students have the skills they need to go out into the world of work, but we must make sure they complement rather than replace placements.

Training student nurses isn’t a numbers game, it is an essential part of providing a safe, quality workforce. And let’s hope we don’t just try and do that on the cheap now that the government is no longer funding it as fully as it once was. Because the stakes are still just as high.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Perhaps it's time to review the amount of hours spent on placement. No other health profession's students spend quite as long on placement as student nurses do nor - as I understand it - do student nurses in other countries outside Europe. It's also time to assess the value and quality of that placement learning.

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  • Good points raised.
    On the occasions that I have been involved with the AEI academic Registry of the Quality Assurance process by Mott Mcdonald to re approve nursing/midwifery pre registration courses,discussions with 3rd year students regarding any concerns over the 3 years has centred around Medication/drug calculations this unfortunately is reflected in the number of Mental Health Nurses and Midwives that appear before NMC FtP Panels.
    Peer support learning is the way forward as is exposure to patient/public/service user and carer involvement in delivering teaching and opportunities to hear the narratives and perspectives of those who use the services.
    Once the UCAS application is received by the AEI and shortlisting undertaken by the Admission tutors/staff, Patient and carers are involved throughout students 3 years.

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