The future regulation of nurse and midwife education

The required education and training standards for nurses and midwives in the UK have until recently needed to comply with EU wide directives. Britain’s exit from the EU provides an opportunity to review these standards and to potentially decide on a new direction. In this article UNISON’s National Officer for Nursing discusses the debate in this area and some of the questions our nursing and midwifery sector will need to consider.

The requirement for student nurses and midwives to spend such a large amount of hours in clinical practice during their training has long been contentious.

Critics of this regulation argue that nursing purports to be an evidence-based profession, how can we continue to insist upon such a burden for students, educators and mentors which has no basis in evidence? Others insist a lengthy grounding in clinical practice is essential for students to gain experience and put their academic learning into practice.

What’s certain is that the current model is creaking loudly at the seams. Pressures on clinicians make adequately supervising and teaching students challenging; whilst finding placements for increasing numbers is a constant battle. The strain of completing so many hours whilst trying to support themselves is a key contributor to the mental health struggles of many students.

The EU directive also covers much more than the required hours in clinical practice. Recognition of prior learning, the length of courses, required skills, access to shortened courses and the ability to include simulation as a method of learning have all been governed by EU directive. All currently remain as directed by the EU but could potentially be changed.

The NMC is beginning a scoping review; reviewing various international contexts for the governance of training and education and speaking to organisations such as UNISON to understand our views.

There are exciting opportunities here; to establish a clearer, modern understanding of nurse and midwife education and what we are trying to achieve; to rebalance training programmes to make them a rewarding experience rather than the slog they often currently are; to focus education on what students learn from practice rather than how long they spend there.

The potential pitfalls are, however, concerning and merit extensive consideration. Some fear a race to the bottom with reductions in training requirements implemented to rush new clinicians through to achieve the increases in the workforce that are desperately needed.

Our Nursing and Midwifery Occupational Group will be making time to consider and debate the potential advantages and disadvantages of any changes and how to consult further with you, our membership.

Our student nurse and midwife network, led by national student nurse lead Joy O’Gorman, recently debated the clinical hours requirement for student nurses, as described by Joy in her contribution to this newsletter. But it will be important that we understand the views and priorities of all our membership, students and educators, clinicians and academics. Please look out for further from us on this issue.