More nursery nurses and healthcare support workers could be recruited to health visiting teams to increase capacity and improve retention rates in the profession, Nursing Times has learnt.
The idea is one of a number being explored by the Department of Health to meet its commitment to increase health visitor numbers by 4,200 over the next four years.
Many hospital nurses who apply for health visiting courses are unsuccessful because they have not had the preparation or information to understand what the job is about
A draft version of its Health Visitor Implementation Strategy 2011-2015 - seen by Nursing Times - calls for a “comprehensive programme of action to increase entry and retention, scaling up current training plans and capacity, and looking rapidly at scope for more flexible training routes to achieve health visitor qualification”.
The document reveals the DH is to explore the feasibility of conversion courses for related professions, while the Nursing and Midwifery Council has been asked to review entry requirements for the third part of the register, which covers specialist community public health nurses, including health visitors.
Royal College of Nursing primary care adviser Lynn Young, who has been working with the DH on the strategy, told Nursing Times that ideas being considered included offering health visiting experience to registered nurses, and reorganising more health visitors into teams with nursery nurses and healthcare support workers.
Unite’s lead professional officer Obi Amadi said giving people the opportunity to gain experience in a health visiting team would improve success rates for applying to courses.
She said: “Many hospital nurses who apply for health visiting courses are unsuccessful because they have not had the preparation or information to understand what the job is about.”
Nursing unions and others have raised concerns that the drive to increase health visitor numbers would lead to a downgrading of the profession and the introduction of direct entry courses, which means that students could train as health visitors without first needing to qualify as a nurse or midwife.
However, an NMC spokeswoman told Nursing Times that direct entry courses would not be considered as part of its review, and entry standards for the register would remain the same.
Instead, it would be looking at how higher education institutions could be encouraged to provide more nursing course modules relevant to health visiting to boost entry to the profession.
The spokeswoman said: “We are working with educators to find areas of flexibility within their programmes that will allow people to gain the knowledge and skills needed in order to gain entry to the specialist community public health nursing part of the register.”
Matthew Hamilton, director of policy at the Council of Deans of Health, told Nursing Times the flexibility would come through increasing “accredited prior experiential learning” (APEL), where nurses who have experience of working in the community could receive credits towards their registration.
He said: “It’s up to the academic institution how much weight they place on that. It has been allowed before but it’s being made absolutely crystal clear [to academic institutions] that that will be the case. This is quite a sea change in terms of numbers.”
Ms Amadi raised a note of caution: “I have no problem with them promoting APEL more widely but absolutely no way should the requirement or standard for APEL be lowered.”
Described as “a call to action”, the DH strategy includes plans to provide opportunities for leadership development and talks about mobilising health visitors to inspire others to join the profession as well as running a year-long recruitment drive starting this autumn.
Health visitors will be commissioned centrally until 2015-16 when councils will take over responsibility.
Do you want your voice to be heard? Make a difference today and sign our ‘seat on the board’ petition to get nurses actively involved in the new commissioning consortia.