Thinking big on quality
The Northern Ireland Practice and Educational Council for nursing and midwifery is a small organisation that has a big impact. Set up in 2002, it promotes high standards of practice by working closely with Northern Ireland’s five trusts.
In Northern Ireland, a unique body is helping to promote professionalism and uphold standards without political interference. The Northern Ireland Practice and Educational Council for nursing and midwifery (NIPEC) has no direct equivalent in the rest of the UK.
One of the strengths of NIPEC is its independence from government, says chair Carol Curran. It was set up as a public body with its own council in 2002. The remit is to support the development of nurses and midwives through standards of practice, education and professional development.
‘We seek to promote high standards of practice – that is at the core of NIPEC activity,’ says Professor Curran. ‘When you think of the scale and extent of the changes that are happening with provision and how they affect the nursing workforce, it is important that staff are adequately prepared to meet the challenges.’
The arm’s-length nature of NIPEC allows it to be an honest broker and secure engagement from other organisations.
For example, it has been able to bring together representatives of the province’s universities to talk about nursing programmes and student selection.
‘That’s like bringing Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose together,’ says Professor Curran. ‘We now have a standardised approach where we are all looking for the same thing.’
NIPEC engages directly with the five trusts in Northern Ireland, ensuring trust representatives are on working parties and key stakeholders are involved in discussions. ‘We say that when you are sitting at the table you are responsible for taking back new information and testing it in your organisation – and coming back with suggestions on how to improve it,’ says chief executive Angela McLernon.
‘We are seen as an independent arbiter,’ she adds, which can provide neutral ground between commissioners and providers.
RCN Northern Ireland director Janice Smyth says:
‘NIPEC certainly delivers a lot for its size and does not shy away from taking on contentious pieces of work. It has taken the lead, corralled and co-ordinated the profession to develop some significant bits of work that were not easy.’
She highlights the work on normative staffing levels as a challenging project, along with developing a generic job description for healthcare assistants/support workers.
Ms Smyth believes NIPEC’s role could be extended, for example by taking on the budget for postgraduate education and training.
NIPEC works closely with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), especially on plans for revalidation. NMC director of continued practice Katerina Kolyva praises NIPEC for the leadership it has shown on revalidation. ‘They are extremely well organised,’ she says. ‘I have been impressed with what they achieve.’
Chief nursing officer for Northern Ireland Charlotte McArdle works closely with NIPEC on translating the policy process into practice. ‘I don’t know how I would manage without them – I can be assured that the quality of the work is going to be high,’ she says. ‘Sometimes they are like my soldiers on the ground.’
So could the same approach be tried elsewhere in the UK – and potentially take some of the political heat out of controversial decisions? While NIPEC is keen to work with other organisations, the other countries of the UK seem a long way away from replicating it. NIPEC managed to produce safe staffing standards, for example, while in England this job was removed from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and taken over by the NHS.
The fact that NIPEC operates in a compact health economy where many key players know each other well and there are limited numbers of organisations probably makes progress easier. But its focus on standards and professionalism could surely set an example elsewhere.
There was enormous variation in the skills of nurses working in the emergency department.
Emergency nurse practitioner Roisin Devlin says: ‘You could be on an emergency department with someone who would be triaging within a year, but elsewhere it could be three years.’
The chief nursing officer asked NIPEC to draw up a professional framework for these nurses. Ms Devlin was seconded from the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust to assist with this process.
As well as helping trusts know what can be expected from an emergency nurse, the framework describes different professional pathways nurses might want to take, such as remaining in clinical practice or moving into managerial roles. Ms Devlin says this could help nurses target specific training for their needs.
The recording care project monitors the standard of nurses’ record-keeping practice across all health and social care trusts, and oversees the development of resources to support improvement. The project approach includes a clinical audit and the production of individual regional nursing data for a range of care settings. See
NIPEC is in the process of developing a career pathway for nurses and midwives in Northern Ireland. It will guide those considering joining the professions, returning to practice and/or looking for career opportunities. This web-based resource is expected to be available on NIPEC’s website in autumn 2015.
This programme supports midwives in undertaking their role and responsibilities in relation to medicines management, including those relating to midwives’ exemptions. An interactive tool providing an e-learning package for midwives, with education materials to support safe and eff ective practice, has been developed. The package can be accessed at
NIPEC’s new online portfolio designed specifically for nurses and midwife is free to access. Those who register and create a nurse or midwife account can record their professional information required for NMC revalidation. Midwives can also record their annual midwifery supervision review in the portfolio. Go to