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Charity condemns HCA year for student nurses


Plans to force all aspiring nurses to work for up to a year as healthcare assistants could put students off doing nursing courses, a health charity has warned.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the move would “give the public confidence” that people entering the profession can give compassionate care.

But Elaine Maxwell, assistant director of the Health Foundation, said the decision would mean that school leavers would see the study of nursing as a “less attractive” option.

Writing on, Ms Maxwell cautioned that the UK’s nursing workforce is ageing - with more than a fifth of employees over the age of 50.

She said that the NHS needs to attract bright and enthusiastic youngsters into the profession.

“If school leavers are obliged (rather than allowed to choose) to delay the start of university to spend a year as a healthcare assistant, many may find applying to study nursing a less attractive option,” she wrote.

She added: “Many health professionals already spend time as paid healthcare assistants before and during their studies, and many enjoy their experience. But there is no reason to think that this makes them better practitioners or that it should be made compulsory.”

Earlier this week the health secretary faced criticism over the proposals. Andrea Spyropoulos, president of the Royal College of Nursing, said the plans were a ”really stupid idea”.

But Mr Hunt told the Health Select Committee on Tuesday: ”We do need to make sure that people that go into nursing have the right values.

”What Health Education England say is that there is a big drop-off when people start to do practical experience in the wards as part of their nursing degrees.

”They therefore think it would be much better if people did this experience first and then they could really see whether they are right for nursing before being accepted on a place on a nursing degree that wasn’t right for them.”


Readers' comments (10)

  • Can I ask a perhaps silly question? What employer is going to employ some one that they know is only going to be there for a limited time?

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  • Wait a minute wasn't it the government that put a stop to trained nurses doing general care in the past so that they didn't have to pay as much for basic care? So we are now in the position of being told that we should be doing the thing we were told not to do. That makes NHS sense I guess

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  • .

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  • Does Hunt have evidence to demonstrate nurses are more compassionate if they work one year as an HCA before entering professional nurse training?

    sounds like another investigation is needed! <:-)

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  • There's an agenda here somewhere. I'd speculate that the government are pinning their hopes on exisiting health care assistants applying for student nurse training. That way they don't have to employ 21,000 additional HCA's annually, who will move on to student training, just backfill for those that choose the training route.

    It's a flawed strategy because everyday I hear from HCA's who wouldn't want to put themselves through the stressors that they witness qualified staff undergoing. Naturally there will always be some who want to move on and up and thats a good thing but the majority in my experience don't want it.

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  • I am appalled to agree with this accursed government. However, I see so many students who have no idea about the job that then drop out that I think this might be useful. Perhaps we also need to move towards having lecturers who are at least credible as practitioners teaching the students too. I cannot believe the number of out of touch, anachronistic numpties who earn high wages and swan around patronising those of us who actually can care for patients. Grumpy? Yes - and rightly so.

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  • well all i can say is i feel this is giving HCA a bad title i've been a HCA for over 35 years is my job that evil it won't make a difference making future students doing a year on the wards you are either right or wrong for the job

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  • There are some interesting comments above. Nurse training always incorporated basic nursing care until the govt listened to those who said this was not important enough for students doing a degree course. Now that so many relatively senior nurses and teachers have gone through this route, who will be teaching new nurses how to do proper basic nursing care? Will it be the maligned HCA's? Who taught the HCA's anyway? Perhaps there could be common core training for nurses and HCA's (not for a full year, of course), in which they learn how to look after patients?

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  • carrie - ann
    i was taught on the ward by qualified staff and self learning it has been hard to get on courses over the years as i work night shift
    maybe it should go back to the old training where the students learned more on the wards than uni

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  • All of the conversation is fascinating to a retired nurse graduate! Now 68 years old and retired for over a year now.
    Things really seem no simpler for governments and the NHS than they were when 12 of us embarked on the Manchester University, Bachelor of Nursing course in 1965.
    Briefly...there was an emphasis on some caring experience, voluntary work etc as well as academic results, before a potential student even got an interview. The interview(s) was intense and demanding of a vocational 'feel' for nursing.
    The course was 4 years long with few holidays, and some learning we shared with the medical students. No picnic.
    Out of the 12 of us, about 7 stayed in hospital nursing as midwives, general nurses etc, the other 5 becoming community nurses/health visitors. Eventually one did research to PhD level, several became managers of some sort in the health profession and the rest like me remained at the coal face, often teaching others. We were all passionate nurses, believing us to have been educated to the level of 'knowledgeable doers'..the quote of the time.
    Nursing is a noble profession and vocation. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

    Happy New Year

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