Almost one in five universities offering nursing and midwifery courses have reported concerns to the professional regulator this year about variations in the quality of placements due to capacity problems.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council, which performs annual checks on universities to ensure they are meeting standards, also found issues with ensuring mentors were up-to-date in a “significant” number of places.
“What are we spending registrants’ money on overseeing higher education institutions?”
In NMC council papers discussed last week, 15 out of 77 UK universities reported problems with placements, either because of rising student numbers, service reconfiguration, or a reduced number of placements being offered by providers.
When the NMC selected 17 universities for closer monitoring – some of which it targeted due to known concerns – it found out-of-date records for mentors at a number of them and in some cases mentors who had not completed mandatory checks.
Two in particular had “inadequate” systems for checking placement providers had up-to-date mentors and that non-compliant mentors had been suspended from the register.
The NMC told universities to take “immediate action” to reassign students to different placements and update mentors and their records.
“We now have assurance that all approved educational institutions have met this key risk and all mentors and mentor databases are up-to-date,” said the council papers.
NMC council papers noted while universities had previously declared to the NMC they were meeting standards at the end of 2014, only four of the 17 that were more closely monitored met all of the standards across the key areas.
Some NMC council members questioned whether the process of self-certification needed to be changed so that problems were dealt with more quickly.
“We want to get to a sophisticated approach that allows us to identify risk and if necessary take action”
Member Stephen Thornton suggested the system for checking university standards was “unsustainable” in light of the “serious problems” uncovered, which he believed “probably only scratched the surface”.
He said the NMC should look at investing more money in regulating course providers but suggested this be funded by universities themselves. “This is registrants’ money. What are we spending registrants’ money on overseeing higher education institutions?” he asked.
Another council member Amerdeep Somal added: “One mechanism might be looking at withdrawing self-certification for institutions where the relationship of trust has been eroded.”
In a later interview, NMC chief executive Jackie Smith told Nursing Times self-reporting was “normal” but acknowledged the process needed to improve. “We want to get to a sophisticated approach that allows us to identify risk, respond to it and if necessary take action,” she said.
She added that the NMC was not “unduly concerned” that only four out of the 17 selected universities had met all standards because they had been identified as being at risk of problems.