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Student nurses must work as HCAs, Hunt says

Nurses will have to work as healthcare assistants for at least a year in order to complete their training, the government has announced. 

In reply to the Francis report released just over two months ago, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the rules apply to any nurse who seeks NHS funding for their degree.

After an introductory pilot scheme, it is hoped the rules will “promote frontline caring experience and values, as well as academic strength”. 

Promises to introduce specialist nurses to care for older people have been axed, with the report suggesting that enhanced training for all nurses would take the quality of care a step “further”. 

The report said: “We will strengthen the focus on the complex physical and emotional needs of frail older people throughout nursing and other healthcare training to ensure that older people needing nursing care will benefit from a nursing workforce that is trained to deal with their needs.” 

Healthcare support workers and adult social workers will have a code of conduct and minimum training standards, released today. 

Although healthcare assistants will not be subject to regulation, there will be an opportunity for them to progress into a role as a nurse, according to Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb. 

He said: “There is no reason why an excellent healthcare assistant should not aspire to be a nurse. 

“Whether you're a care support worker working in a hospital ward or working in a care home, the importance of training is just as important.” 

New powers

A training scheme launched today by Health Education England, Higher Education institutions and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) will “ensure all new nurses have the skills to work with the large numbers of older people.” 

The NMC will also be granted new powers to revalidate nurses' qualifications, in the same way that the General Medical Council (GMC) must validate doctors.

However, the government acknowledged that the NMC first has to “turn around its current poor performance” and said its current focus “must be to ensure that professional confidence is restored.”

The government has explicitly asked the NMC to “tighten and speed up” their procedures for fitness to practice proceedings. 

The government has also announced two new roles - a Chief Inspector for Hospitals and a Chief Inspector of Social Care. 

The Chief Inspector of Hospitals will introduce and develop 'Ofsted-style' ratings of hospital performance, and the Inspector of Social care will “ensure the same rigour is applied across the health and care system”. 

“A Chief Inspector of Social Care will ensure that we don't become hospital centric, but we have someone who can look at the wider care system to ensure that the same principles apply across the board,” Lamb said. 

DH is also discussing the possibility of introducing a Chief Inspector of Primary Care. 

Although the Health Secretary said changes announced today would apply to the whole healthcare system, a response specific to primary and community care will be released in the coming year. 

The Health Secretary said: “Today I am setting out an initial response to Robert Francis' recommendations. But this is just the start to a fundamental change to the system.”