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Supporting nurse returners

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 44, PAGE NO: 36

Emma Templeman, BN, RGN, was clinical skills facilitator (return to practice), Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, at the time of writing

The government's national recruitment campaign, launched in February last year, highlighted the importance of encouraging nurses to return to practice. There are an estimated 140,000 nurses under the age of 55 who are not working in the profession and, over the past year, £4m has been spent on trying to lure some of them back. With 21,000 vacancies to fill nationally, nurse returners represent an important resource.

The government's national recruitment campaign, launched in February last year, highlighted the importance of encouraging nurses to return to practice. There are an estimated 140,000 nurses under the age of 55 who are not working in the profession and, over the past year, £4m has been spent on trying to lure some of them back. With 21,000 vacancies to fill nationally, nurse returners represent an important resource.

To improve the recruitment and retention of returners, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust created a clinical skills facilitator role. The CSF provides support for nurses returning to practice after a break of five years or more.

Recruitment
When an job application is received, the CSF matches suitable vacancies and working hours with the returning nurse's needs. Returners are employed on a top A grade for the duration of their return-to-practice course and moved to a D grade once they have completed it. However, this is under review and there are plans to implement performance-related pay in response to the views of nurse returners. Experience has shown that individuals progress at different rates and should be rewarded accordingly.

In response to the Improving Working Lives Standard (Department of Health, 2000), the trust emphasises flexibility. Term-time and school-hour contracts have been offered to nurses who want to return to practice, which is a positive step towards recruiting the mothers of children who are of school-going age.

In addition to the NHS annual national recruitment campaign and letters from England's chief nurse, Sarah Mullally, to all non-practising nurses on the register, the trust's recruitment initiatives included:

- Interviews on local radio;

- Articles in local newspapers;

- Roadshows at shopping centres;

- Hospital open days.

Having a CSF has meant that all enquiries are dealt with immediately.

Training
An ENB-approved return-to-practice course has been run jointly since 1997 by the trust and the University of Southampton School of Nursing and Midwifery. Of the 55 nurses who have attended the course, 41 (75%) are still employed by the trust. However, since the CSF has been in post, the trust has achieved 100% retention of nurse returners.

The 16-week course, which has an average intake of 10 returners, is held twice a year. Nurses spend one day a week at the university, from 10am to 2pm - a schedule that has been designed to suit women with children and allow access to the library. The day has recently been extended to include sessions run by clinicians on topics that are not covered by the current timetable (Table 1). Course evaluation has resulted in the inclusion of all the core clinical components in a four-day block before returners start work in their clinical areas. This includes manual handling, clinical and resuscitation skills, and a trust induction day.

Returners must complete a minimum of 150 clinical hours during the 16-week course, working at least two shifts a week. Each is allocated a clinical assessor and 'buddy' to work with when shift patterns allow. Returners also complete a personal profile, including a CV and examples of reflective practice and the application of theory to practice.

The CSF's role
The CSF acts as an important link between the trust and the university, ensuring clinical support for nurse returners. The CSF meets with them every fortnight to work with each nurse individually in her own particular clinical area. In this way the CSF can assess the nurse's clinical skills and knowledge, and provide support and teaching when appropriate. The CSF also supports the returners' ward assessors.

After completing the return-to-practice course, nurses are followed up at quarterly intervals for the first year. The discussion focuses on professional development and reflective practice. This is important as the support and development programmes in place in clinical areas vary widely.

The CSF is available for ongoing professional and career advice, which also promotes retention. Five of the six trusts in the consortia region now have a CSF in post and this model has been adapted to promote supervised practice among foreign nurses at the trust.

Conclusion
With clinical areas supervising an increased number of preregistration students and foreign nurses, often with junior workforces, the CSF's role is vital to support nurses returning to practice.

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