THE OZONE: Preparing the nurses of the future

By Nicki Abel, a lecturer in MS nursing at Birmingham City University and MS specialist nurse at the city’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Nicki has published widely in her special interest of sexuality and MS and co-authored a Europe-wide consensus paper on the role of the MS nurse.


Preparing the nurses of the future

The universities admissions service UCAS announced this week that the number of nursing applicants in England had fallen by 23%: there were 43,800 in January 2016 and just 33,810 in January 2017.

At the same time, nurse education is set to change once again as the role becomes ever more vital in the holistic care of the rising number of people living with long-term conditions.

So how do we prepare the nurses of the future?

Nurse education in the UK is changing again

Pre-registration education was last updated in 2010 when it was decided all new nurse training had to lead to a degree-level qualification; but changes are once again on their way in the shape of Educating the Future Nurse: A paper for discussion (Council of Deans Health 2016).

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) carried out an evaluation of pre-registration education in 2015 and, as a result, have developed new pre-registration nursing standards. It aims to pilot these in 2018 and roll out them out nationally in all nursing universities by September 2019.

While it’s not been long since the last update, these proposed changes are driven by the fact that the nurse of the future needs an education that reflects “unprecedented” changes in health and social care over the last few years. The NMC cites issues such as an aging population, an increase in the incidence of long-term conditions and reliance on technology as the major reasons for change. Other issues such as enabling self-management, preventative care and integrated care are also set to dominate the health and social care sector now and in the next decade: our future nurse education must reflect this.

Real life versus simulated experience

Word on the street is that there will be less placement time for student nurses. Currently, student nurse training involves 4,600 hours in all, with 50% practice and 50% theory. Practice time will almost certainly reduce, although we are not sure by how much at the moment. Instead, universities will probably be expected to provide much more ‘simulation’ experiences of how things should be done, giving student nurses the opportunity to actively ‘practise’ nursing care in a controlled environment.

While some universities do this anyway, this will probably become more widespread and definitely more sophisticated. It remains to be seen if student nurses will be happy with the move from clinical practice to simulation. There will also be more emphasis on the teaching of practical nursing skills in small interactive groups, again in a classroom environment.
It is difficult to know how the curriculum will change, but there is no doubt that the changes will be considerable. The document is out for consultation and definite new arrangements will only be known after that. The time scales seem tight. There is no doubt course content will change too, universities will need to reflect the changing health and social care needs and provide a curriculum that best suits these needs.

Reducing inequalities

The cynic might say that the changes are necessary for reasons other than those stipulated by the NMC. There can be inequality in nurse training: much of the placement experience is governed by the student’s mentor, so if they are inexperienced, struggle with enabling the student to learn, or are just not engaged with education, learning and training, the student nurse will not have as an enriched learning experience as someone with a different mentor. There is no doubt the number of placement experiences is also insufficient. With so many students needing to be placed and supervised, this is becoming increasingly complex.

We should not forget the student nurses currently engaging in their nurse education. Where will this new educational programme leave them? They must not be marginalised or made to feel that their education is somehow second rate. We must pay close attention to them.

The NMC is dedicated to maintaining its workforce. The nurses from these programmes will qualify in 2022 and may stay in the workforce until 2065.

• Nicki Abel is a member of The Ozone, a hand-picked group of health experts brought together by Oyster Healthcare Communications to discuss ideas and share best practice across therapy areas. Follow her on Twitter @upbeatnicki


Read more from Nicki and her fellow panellists in Issue 1 of The Ozone e-magazine, to be published on Monday.

Published on: February 2, 2017