NHS England has signalled its support for a reduction in the number of clinical placement hours undertaken by nursing students.
The plan said NHS England would work with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to ‘explore the potential for further changes’ to nursing degrees and highlighted opportunities presented by Brexit and new technologies.
As part of this, NHS England said it encouraged the nursing regulator to ‘consider how graduate nurses can join its register after fewer practice hours, mirroring the approach in many other countries’. It also said this would help enable its increase in training capacity – by 80% for nursing – set out in the plan.
‘A reduction in placement hours from 2,300 to 1,800 over the course of a nursing degree would reduce pressure on our learners while significantly increasing placement capacity across the NHS to give pre-registration students the high-quality learner experience they need to prepare to work in the NHS,’ the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan added.
The NMC no longer needs to follow EU Directive education requirements – on factors such as student selection, length of course, and theory and practice learning hours – after Britain left the EU in January 2020.
Earlier this year, the NMC increased the number of simulation hours nursing students could carry out as part of a clinical placement, meaning that up to 600 of the 2,300 practice learning hours can now be simulated.
Julie Dixon, NMC nursing education adviser, told Nursing in Practice that the NMC was ‘planning to evaluate the current state of practice education for nurses, midwives and nursing associates’.
‘This will include establishing the ideal mix of practice learning opportunities that will best equip students to join the register and improve people’s health and wellbeing,’ she said.
Ms Dixon said that findings would subsequently be presented at an NMC council meeting.
Within its workforce blueprint, NHS England said it would encourage and support higher education institutions to adopt this new standard ‘at pace’.
‘As well as benefitting students, this can reduce the pressure on health and care providers of providing sufficient practice placements,’ said the plan.
The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan includes targets for increasing nurse training that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has described as ‘ambitious’.
This includes more than doubling training places for district nurses by 2030/31 and nearly doubling the number of health visitors trained per year in the same timeframe.
Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary, said that ‘while expanding places is key, it requires the experienced nurses to support students during their education’.
‘The responsibility to expand training must not fall on local health systems before central government addresses key issues like inadequate pay and funding.’
Meanwhile, speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live before the plan’s publication, RCN deputy director of nursing education Dr Nicola Ashby said that the plan must ‘not erode the nursing degree’ but should instead ‘invest in the education workforce’.