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Student nurses working as HCA poses safety risk, warn Deans


The Council of Deans of Health has said plans to allow student nurses to spend up to a year working as healthcare assistants could put patient safety at risk.

As part of its response to the Francis report the government is proposing students seeking funding for a nursing degree will be required to work for up to a year as a HCA.

In his report following the scandal at Mid Staffordshire Robert Francis suggested students should spend at least three months gaining experience of personal care, supervised by a registered nurse. However, the government has taken this further, extending it to 12 months.

The Council of Deans of Health said an influx of trainees could add more pressure onto existing staff who will have to supervise them.

In a statement Professor Ieuan Ellis, chair of the council said: “There were 198,000 applications to student nursing places in 2012.

“Prospective students spending up to a year working as a healthcare assistant will place an over-stretched health service and its staff under even greater pressure, putting more unqualified people on the wards.

“If this is piloted and evaluated then we will engage with it; but we are clear that if this becomes a blanket provision it will risk patient safety rather than protect it. This is the wrong answer to the wrong question.”

On education standards Professor Ellis added: “Rather than focusing on pre-registration students, we need to concentrate on getting the right numbers and mix of qualified frontline staff, supported by their leaders to deliver high quality care.”

The Royal College of Nursing also said it had “urgent questions” about the policy.


Sign our Speak Out Safely petition to support a transparent and open NHS. We are calling on the government to implement recommendations from the Francis report that will increase protection for staff who raise concerns about patient care.


Readers' comments (8)

  • When Project 2000 came in student nurse training went down the pan. Instead of prospective nurses working as HCAs for a year why don't nurse educators sort out nurse training. Get students out on more placements and assess them more thoroughly. Take a leaf out of the army and airforce training, their students are streets ahead of nhs students.

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  • Guess what I was told to do before I could start student nurse training?

    Yep - go and get some HCA experience! That was thirty years ago and to the best of my knowledge it didn't harm any of my patients.

    What the Universities need to do is to make tutors and assessors more accountable for the standard of student/staff nurses they are turning out. I have seen at first hand the poor standards that seem to be accepted and those low standards are fast becoming the norm and of course then those students are becoming staff nurses and role models for HCAs and other students and so the vicious circle continues.

    The Deans need to be really careful about their windows when they start throwing stones about the place.

    I concur with first post above, I have worked with military students and they are head and shoulders above their civilian counterparts. Why? Because they are held to (comparitively) extremely high standards by their trainers.

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  • What about if the person came from health care field working as a care assistant from long time.still do they need to work as care assistant after nursing?

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  • come on they qualify after three years whats the problem they wont have to do so much after!!!!!!!

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  • I applaud the Govt for this [and I generally hate Tory initiatives!].
    I think Trusts will need to be heavily involved in interviewing for these places and there needs to be a 'competency pack' to be signed off before they start training. Those who do not complete are then stopped from entering Uni...

    Perhaps we need to see Uni staff doing some clinical work too, I am sure they were good nurses once - but most are desperately out of touch these days and probably are barely credible as practitioners. How then can they be in control of professional training?

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  • competency packs are being used dosn't make any difference once done it is forgotten ?

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  • The US model of nurse training seems like something we should maybe look at, my friend did the exams to work over there a few years ago and they are expected to have a much broader knowledge base than us.

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  • I do not think this will have any impact, although most people who are training to be a nurse already have that experience. I think they need to address nurse training more as you would be surprised how many nurses qualify as a nurse but feel they do not have sufficient knowledge to carry out tasks as a registered nurse.

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