Students would still be required to attend clinical placements.
Plans to introduce an online nursing degree in England are progressing with proposals from universities expected in Autumn, a new report has revealed.
The news comes as part of the Interim NHS People Plan which seeks to address the estimated 100,000 unfilled vacancies by developing additional ways to recruit, retain, develop and train more nurses and allied healthcare professionals.
According to the NHS Long Term Plan, an online nursing degree would be designed to make training ‘more accessible’ and could cost ‘substantially less’ than the £9,250 a year currently charged by universities on traditional degree pathways.
It is not yet known what proportion of the course would be delivered online but students will still be required to attend clinical placements.
Alternative routes in nursing.
The report reads; “We have developed a number of alternative routes into the profession over recent years, including the nurse degree apprenticeship and the nursing associate route, which – as well as being a valuable new part of the clinical team in its own right – is also a stepping stone to registered nursing for those who want to develop further.
“As set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, we are exploring the potential for a blended learning nursing degree programme for which the theoretical component is partly delivered online, widening participation by enabling people to learn on their own terms. We will be calling for expressions of Interest from HEIs before the summer and will then work with them and the NMC to develop proposals in the autumn.
“These routes all have a key role to play in maximising supply, but it is important that they complement undergraduate and postgraduate expansion, and that they are clearly defined to allow employers and those wishing to enter the profession to make informed decisions on the best route to take.”
Universities will have to work alongside the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to ensure any proposals meet the regulators’ standards of proficiency for registered nurses.
Nursing demands academic and practical skills.
Commenting when the online nursing degree was first proposed, Dame Donna Kinnair – Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said; “Nursing degrees demand both academic and practical skills which student nurses learn from contact with professionals and peers, a model not easily replicated online, even with clinical placements.
“Nursing is a career like no other, and it takes the right values and ambition to succeed. Entry standards are rigorous because they have to be – it is what safe patient care demands.”
Responding to the interim NHS People Plan, Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s Director in England, said “This document begins to tackle the real issues but many will reserve final judgement until funding levels and practical details are revealed.
“The NHS – and the people who use it – deserve a detailed solution to the current crisis, including a new legal framework on accountability for the workforce. When there are 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs in England, we need to see urgency from Ministers.
“To attract the very best professionals into nursing and the NHS, it must be a world class employer that pays fair salaries, pensions and demonstrates the flexibility employees increasingly need and expect.”
One in six nursing associates drop out before qualifying, finds report
Despite this trainees showed “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”.
Only 65% of trainee nursing associates said they planned to work as a nursing associate once qualified.
An independent evaluation of the nursing associate role commissioned by Health Education England (HEE) has found that while there are “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”, one in six nursing associates are dropping out before completing the course.
Attrition rates for trainee nursing associates fell slightly below that of student nurses, with 18% leaving before completing the course.
While ill health and personal issues were some of the most common reasons for leaving the programme, nearly a quarter (23%) withdrew because they failed to meet the academic requirements of the programme – with numeracy skills cited as a key issue.
One trainee said they found the “attitudes towards the role and the negative feedback about Nursing Associates” challenging.
Only 65% of trainees said they intend to continue working as a nursing associate once qualified as the programme is often seen as a stepping stone to becoming a registered nursing.
Mark Radford, Chief Nursing Officer, Health Education England said the report “highlights some challenges that we must address to ensure that students such as ensuring the quality and oversight of placements, attrition and numeracy support.”
“We also recognise that further work and research is required to ensure that the profession is supported and utilised in the workforce of health and social care as part of the MDT. I am pleased to be able to report that we are in the process of identifying candidates to be considered as NA ambassadors across England.
Commenting on the report, Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Executive and Registrar for the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said; “Having had the pleasure of meeting many nursing associates across the country, I am continually inspired by their enthusiasm and dedication for providing care and they should be very proud of the difference they make for the people they support.”
“I look forward to seeing how nursing associates continue to develop and be supported in their work, long into the future.”
UCAS accused of having an ‘outdated’ view on nurses
They describe the nursing role to prospective students as looking after people when they are sick or injured.
UCAS describes nurses as providing “support to doctors and other medical staff”.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has been accused of having an “outdated” view on nurses after it described the profession as providing “support to doctors and other medical staff”.
UCAS describes the nursing role to prospective students as looking after people when they are sick or injured. Adding; “You’ll provide support to doctors and other medical staff, take blood and urine samples, and in some cases, you may carry out minor surgical procedures.”
Nurses, alongside a multitude of other healthcare professionals, have taken to social media calling for the description to be amended so it “adequately reflects nursing in the 21st century”. They also criticised the article for failing to highlight a large number of health promotion and research roles frequently undertaken by the profession.
BJ Walto, a senior member of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) commented that the description is “inaccurate, demeaning and totally misleading portrayal of nursing.”
Tom Wavlin, a Lecturer in Adult Nursing & Admissions Tutor at the University of Plymouth, suggested the description could instead read; “an autonomous practitioner of nursing who works closely with other healthcare professionals”.
In comparison, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) website reads; “Registered nurses play a vital role in providing, leading and coordinating care that is compassionate, evidence-based, and person-centred. They are accountable for their own actions and must be able to work autonomously, or as an equal partner with a range of other professionals, and in interdisciplinary teams.”
A spokesperson for UCAS said; “It’s clear that our current role profile for nurses doesn’t reflect the amazing work that nurses across the country do each day, and we welcome the feedback we’ve recently received.
“We want to make sure that students considering their future options have up-to date information about all different careers available to them.
“We’re currently updating all of our job profiles and are in touch with nursing experts to help us make sure that we better reflect the roles and responsibilities of nurses today.”
UPDATE (17/10/19 09:55): This article was updated to include a comment from UCAS.
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