CPD: is your employer reluctant to give you protected learning time?

Many nurses struggle to negotiate time out during working hours – but support is available

Many nurses struggle to negotiate time out during working hours – but support is available

CPD is mandatory for all registrants, but being given the time to do it isn’t Picture: iStock

For nurses, learning doesn’t stop when they’re handed their degree on graduation day. It doesn’t stop when they’re given their NMC registration number. Nurses are expected to maintain and improve their skill set to care for patients safely, and with competence, throughout their careers in a process called continuing professional development, or CPD.

The RCN, working with other colleges and organisations, defined common principles for CPD in order to create a culture of continuous improvement. These principles are regularly reviewed.

The principles make clear that while each registrant is responsible for their lifelong learning, it must be made possible and supported by employers.

What the NMC requires of registrants – and expects of employers

To stay on the register, nurses need to demonstrate they have undertaken at least 35 hours of CPD every three years. Twenty hours will have to have been committed to participatory learning activities, such as seminars, workshops or the shadowing of colleagues.

Browse our peer-reviewed CPD articles

Despite the fact nurses must be able to establish this with the NMC during the revalidation process, there’s no legal obligation on employers to provide time for learning related to CPD. The NMC, however, is clear that employers have a responsibility to support their staff to meet these requirements.

Where this responsibility can be tested is in an environment with nursing shortages: health trusts in England, for example, are grappling with more than 43,000 nurse vacancies.

Staffing pressures often scupper training plans

In short-staffed working environments, nursing staff may feel pressure to postpone or delay planned educational seminars to plug gaps in a working rota. Or, nurses may feel they have no choice but to undertake CPD in their own time, or in other inventive ways, rather than face tedious negotiations about protected time.

‘Lack of learning and development opportunities are regularly cited by nurses as one of the main reasons they are unhappy and may leave their jobs’

An RCN report found that no part of the UK has a way of ensuring there is sufficient funding for nurses to access CPD opportunities and, in fact, access to CPD is incredibly variable across the UK.

It can feel difficult to justify attendance at education events when you are leaving behind
a gap in the staff rota  Picture: iStock

Lack of learning opportunities can make nurses disaffected 

When someone feels they have to battle for learning and development time that is a requirement for revalidation, then there are the makings of a negative workplace culture.

Lack of learning and development opportunities are regularly cited by nurses in surveys as one of the main reasons they are unhappy and may leave their jobs.

Support to plan CPD and secure time out

As a trade union, the RCN helps nurses plan their CPD needs and negotiate learning time with their employers.

This is done through the RCN’s learning representatives who support and signpost nurses to plan, manage and undertake their learning in whatever way suits their learning style, and to plan their career development. They can also point colleagues to professional opportunities available through the RCN.

If you are an RCN member and are concerned you might be denied access to CPD, it could be a good idea to find out who your RCN learning representative is. Even if you haven't had a problem, it’s also a good idea to get to know your local learning representative, because they can let you know about seminars and study days that you might find useful.

Mandatory training and how it links (or not) to CPD

Most nurses in the NHS undertake CPD that has been paid for (at least in part) by their employer. It is important to note that while employers will have mandatory training (such as manual handling and infection control), this does not count towards CPD unless the content is directly relevant to a nurse’s specialty.

Browse our revalidation articles

If you have organised a meeting with your line manager to discuss your CPD requirements, it may be useful to jot down some notes to help keep you on track. You can read our top ten tips to help you secure your CPD

If, as an RCN member and you’re unable to locate your learning rep, you can always contact the college directly, which will be able to connect you with the people who can help you most.

If you think you could help negotiate improved learning opportunities for you and your colleagues, you may want to become a learning representative yourself.


Josephine Brady is RCN associate director of employment relations


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