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Social care leaders call for more student nurse placements



Care home placements for student nurses offer a valuable learning experience and could boost recruitment to the sector, social care leaders have argued.

At an online social care roundtable hosted by Nursing in Practice this Wednesday, the panel suggested universities and care providers needed to do more to improve the perception of care home placements, with many student nurses seeing them as a last resort.

Attendees also called for higher quality mentoring and support for student nurses on placement in the sector and newly qualified nurses. This is so they have a better experience working in a care home – and recruitment and retention rates would improve as a result.

Liz Jones, policy director at membership group the National Care Forum (NCF), said: ‘If we get them early, they will stay.’ Although many NCF members find student nurses ‘come back to them for a job’ after being on placement there, ‘we need a more systematic way of doing that,’ she said.

Ms Jones also argued it was easier for universities to organise placements in hospitals than care homes, adding: ‘As a sector, we need some support to do that for offering placements. We could also look at how we support people during those placements, so they have a great experience.’   

QNI chief executive Dr Crystal Oldman said: ‘Working for 18 years in a university, we would constantly hear students objecting to being placed in a care home saying, “I’m not going to learn”.’

But she acknowledged: ‘It takes a long time to change the perception of universities and convince them this is great opportunity to learn.’ Many areas were already change perceptions ‘really well’, she added, and encouraged learning to be shared across the sector.

Although Swaran Rakhra, member support manager at Scottish Care, pointed out there might not be enough nurses in post to offer mentoring: ‘There are so many vacancies within the social care sector and nurses are under stress.  Do they have the capacity at present to do the “good stuff”?’

Margot Whittaker, director of nursing for Southern Healthcare Nursing Homes in Devon, stressed that nurses in post needed to be educated ‘so they can mentor new nurses coming into the sector effectively’, as currently mentoring training programmes are ‘very ad hoc’.

This comes amid concerns about recruitment and retention, with a 12.3% vacancy rate among care home nurses reported in October 2020. Making Covid-19 jabs mandatory for care home staff from 11 November is also already worsening staff shortages, unions have warned.

Panellists also argued the negative perception of care home nursing was unfair. Louise Brady, clinical development lead at the Royal British Legion, pointed out it was a highly skilled and complex career.

Ms Brady said: ‘We need to champion the complexity of care and the work nurses actually do. The autonomous and nurse led nature of adult social care is a fabulous selling point.’

Clare Jacobs, national officer for independent sector employers, echoed the same point: ‘[Social care nurses] are delivering highly complex, specialist and technical nursing – and it is a nurse-led service, it is probably the only nurse-led service.’

Professor Mark Radford, chief nurse at HEE, told Nursing in Practice in response to the roundtable discussion:The health and care system is committed to expanding the workforce in adult social care though it is impacted by a range of complex factors.

‘We aim to increase the number of placements and HEE is working with the chief nurse for social care in the Department of Health and Social Care on options to support this,’ he added.

Also attending the roundtable was Simon Bottery, senior fellow in social care at the King’s Fund; George Coxon, care home owner and Nursing in Practice blogger; Louis Holmes, policy officer at Care England; Mark Bird, RCN transformational lead for the independent health and social care sector;  Suzy Webster, care home network manager at Age Cymru; and Jana Harris, head of operations (care) at Hafod.

More stories on the roundtable to follow.