Nursing experts on dementia have welcomed a new national training framework, calling it a “positive” move and “important” resource for staff working across health and social care services.
However, they also said there were still difficulties in accessing funding for training for nurses working in social care, compared to those in the NHS.
“We cannot forget that the social care workforce, including registered nurses, do not have equal access to health education funding”
For the first time, national training requirements for healthcare professionals working with people with dementia have been laid out in a new framework, which it is hoped will increase the quality of care provided.
Developed by national workforce body Health Education England and training development organisation Skills for Health, the framework covers three tiers – awareness, fundamental skills and leadership needed for dementia care.
It states that the entire health and social care workforce should have a level of awareness in which they know the UK prevalence of the condition, are able to recognise signs of dementia, and understand reasons why the person may be showing signs of distress.
The government-commissioned document – developed in partnership with over 20 organisations – also lays out the different skills, qualifications and knowledge of legislation needed by staff who either regularly work with people with dementia or are leaders in the sector.
It matches up the applicable requirements according to whether the professional works in the health or social care sector.
But the document – called the Dementia Core Skills Education and Training Framework – also sets out fundamental skills that can be transferred between settings to stop unnecessary duplication of training.
“We do need to embed a knowledge of normal ageing and age-related conditions, including dementia, within the core educational curriculum of medical, nursing and therapy staff”
The 14 areas covered include dementia prevention, communication and interaction, pharmacological interventions, end of life dementia care, and safeguarding.
In his introduction to the document, NHS England’s national clinical director for dementia, Alistair Burns, said the framework should act as a “landmark resource” for anybody involved in dementia education and training.
Welcoming the framework, Deborah Sturdy, nurse advisor at Care England, said: “This is a really positive initiative and the fact it’s setting a national framework of expectation of training and knowledge for everyone is welcome.”
However, she said: “There is an expectation that this [framework] is going to be delivered and there is not an equal playing field for social care as there is for health settings.
“We cannot forget that the social care workforce, including registered nurses, do not have equal access to health education funding,” she added.
She also noted that the framework stated some levels of dementia care were not applicable to those working in social care, suggesting the document had been devised from a “paternalistic NHS” viewpoint.
“I look forward to the champions, with this education guidance, reading across what level they are at”
Ms Sturdy, a former Department of Health advisor on older people’s nursing, highlighted that the section on dementia identification and diagnosis stated clinicians working in social care did not need to meet the more advanced assessment skills.
“The assumption the framework is making is that everyone has got a diagnosis in that environment [social care] and that’s not true. It’s also making an assumption that nurses working in social care don’t have a public health role,” she added.
Professor June Andrews, director of the University of Stirling’s dementia services development centre, also backed the new framework.
She said she particularly hoped the framework would help to drive up standards among nurses with designated responsibility for dementia.
It could be used by nurse “dementia champions”, who were often given “minimal education and then a whole lot responsibility”, to demand extra training from managers, she said.
“I look forward to the champions, with this education guidance, reading across what level they are at so they can go back to their managers and say ‘do you really intend for me to be operating as a dementia champion when you look at the most basic level of awareness required?’,” said Professor Andrews.
Meanwhile, Linda Nazarko, consultant nurse at West London Mental Health NHS Trust and former dementia lead at Ealing community services, said the framework’s inclusion of end of life care would be particularly useful, as this was an area nurses and doctors often struggled with.
But she added: “We do need to embed a knowledge of normal ageing and age-related conditions, including dementia, within the core educational curriculum of medical, nursing and therapy staff at pre-registration level.”