The curriculum for nurse education is constantly refined, updated and improved, but the basic position is that pre-registration nurse training is 50% theory and 50% practice.
A long-standing debate over whether nursing should be an all-graduate profession still rages on. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now have an all-graduate training route into nursing unlike England where about 70% of nursing students still do a diploma in nursing.
Many senior nurses, including the chief nursing officer Christine Beasley, cannot decide whether England should follow the rest of the UK’s example.
The RCN favours an all-graduate profession because some research shows that nurses with a degree-level qualification provide higher quality patient care.
The diploma is still popular because the bursary that comes with it is not means-tested. Removing that bursary would be difficult for some in terms of finance as the majority of nursing students have part-time jobs to earn extra money and some are qualifying with debts of over £10,000.
A change currently in development is more stringent assessment of skills and competencies to make sure that only those students seen as ‘fit to practise’ are allowed to qualify.
This followed a consultation by nursing regulator the NMC, which also concluded there should be minimum supervision time by mentors and better NMC guidance on preceptorship.
In September of last year, nursing students at a conference challenged the CNO to improve the mentorship system and make mentors more accountable. They said mentors were too often unwilling to teach them and some were unhappy at even being in such a post, which left newly qualified nurses unprepared to take on the job.
More interprofessional learning for nurses with the likes of doctors and allied health professionals is likely to come as the health service changes and professional boundaries blur.
The Department of Health is funding local and national initiatives in interprofessional and ‘common’ learning. The University of Southampton, for example, has a common learning programme.
There are concerns over recruitment of nurse educators in the future as these people are non-NHS employees, so have missed out on the financial benefits of the new Agenda for Change pay system.
Another growing issue for nursing students is the lack of jobs when they qualify – a problem that has arisen because the NHS is cutting back on staff and has a surplus of band 5 nurses thanks to heavy reliance on overseas recruitment in recent years. Those nurses have tended to remain on the lower pay bands.
Updated: September 2006