Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said this week that 165 aspirant nursing students were currently piloting a controversial scheme of working as healthcare assistants for at least three months before starting their nurse training.
The six pilots began in September and are being run by Health Education England, with a second phase also planned. Mr Hunt described the move, which was announced this time last year by the government, as a “radical new training approach”.
However, the numbers currently on the pilots appear to be slightly less than originally hoped for. Previous statements from HEE had said they were likely to involve “up to 200” aspirant nurses and Nursing Times was told in October that about 180 people had been recruited.
Mr Hunt was speaking at a conference marking one year since the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust was published.
The Francis report was published on 6 February 2013
He noted figures published last month by the Health and Social Care information Centre that showed an extra 2,400 hospital nurses have been recruited by the NHS in England since February 2013. The health secretary said this was evidence of a “Francis effect” – a phrase coined by nurse commentators in Nursing Times in October.
“Twelve months on [from the Francis report], we cannot expect to have solved everything or to have completely transformed the culture of the country’s largest and finest institution,” he said. “But we have seen a real shift in priorities – new inspections, more nurses and a stronger voice for patients, with compassionate care starting to replace tick-box targets as the major focus on boards and wards.
“As the NHS starts to cross this Rubicon, we must pay tribute to the hard work of NHS staff as well as the whistleblowers and patients’ champions who refused to be silenced,” he added.
Mr Hunt’s speech was released to the media on the same day that Nursing Times revealed results from a survey of 526 nurses, which suggested the situation at the frontline was yet to improve significantly for staff.
More than half of nurses said their ward or unit remained dangerously understaffed one year after the Francis report. Meanwhile, 39% of respondents warned staffing levels had worsened over the last 12 months and 37% that they have stayed the same – only 22% reported an improvement.
Overall 42% of respondents thought the Francis report would improve things in the long term for the NHS, but 28% said it would make no difference.
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