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Preparing nurses for the crucial role of caring for older people

Education needs to be matched with dynamic career pathways that attract professionals to the speciality and maintain motivation and resilience, say Nicky Hayes and Corina Naughton.
mentoring

Education needs to be matched with dynamic career pathways that attract professionals to the speciality and maintain motivation and resilience, say Nicky Hayes and Corina Naughton

Few nurses can have escaped the predictions on population ageing and the expected increase in the number of older people living with frailty and/or multi-morbidity.

Older people and their families expect to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion, whether at home, in hospital or in social care. They also expect all healthcare professionals to possess the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary to deal with the practicalities of age-related health issues.

But many nurses outside gerontological specialities struggle to demonstrate the core skills required to optimise health and well-being in older people, and to enable supported independence.

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Education needs to be matched with dynamic career pathways that attract professionals to the speciality and maintain motivation and resilience, say Nicky Hayes and Corina Naughton


Without an understanding of the ageing process nurses can be ill-prepared
to work with older clients.   Picture: John Houlihan

Few nurses can have escaped the predictions on population ageing and the expected increase in the number of older people living with frailty and/or multi-morbidity. 

Older people and their families expect to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion, whether at home, in hospital or in social care. They also expect all healthcare professionals to possess the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary to deal with the practicalities of age-related health issues.  

But many nurses outside gerontological specialities struggle to demonstrate the core skills required to optimise health and well-being in older people, and to enable supported independence.

Age-attuned care 

Without an understanding of the ageing process – the psychological, physical and social impact of living with frailty, dementia or other chronic conditions – nurses are ill-prepared to work with older clients to implement effective management plans. 

Nurses have expressed frustration at the lack of available opportunities to develop their capabilities to provide age-attuned care, and deficits in formal education preparation in undergraduate and postgraduate curricula are well-recognised. 

Not since 2002, with the dissolution of English National Board (ENB) courses, have there been standardised and accredited programmes in older people’s nursing.

Such programmes were accessible to nurses working in all sectors, not just the NHS, and while this model may no longer be fit-for-purpose, it has not been replaced by an updated, recognised, and transferable alternative.

Turning the tide 

Similar deficits are seen in national strategies on workforce planning, raising important questions about workforce readiness in terms of scale, competency and commitment to meet current and future population needs. 

New models of workforce development in this speciality include the Older Person’s Fellowship, funded by Health Education England, which is now recruiting a third cohort of senior nurses and allied health professionals. 

But education is not enough – it needs to be matched with career pathways that attract professionals to the speciality early, and maintain the motivation and resilience to continue in this field. 

What is required now is a funding commitment for dynamic education career pathways to turn the tide of staff shortages in older adult services, and deliver the care we want for older people. 


About the authors

Nicky Hayes (left) is consultant nurse for older people at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and clinical lecturer at King’s College London. Corina Naughton (right) is senior lecturer at the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, King’s College London. They run the Older People’s Fellowship at King’s College London, a postgraduate programme supported by Health Education England. Find out more here

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