Career advice

On a fast track into practice nursing

A training course aims to provide everything needed to prepare for a career as a practice nurse

A training course aims to provide everything needed to prepare for a career as a practice nurse

Picture: iStock

A fast-track training course for aspiring practice nurses is being piloted in Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire.

‘We want to be innovative and think about doing things differently,’ says Tina Swain, head of nursing and safeguarding at NHS Nene and NHS Corby Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG). ‘We need to entice newly qualified nurses to come into primary care and see it as a career pathway.’

In a scheme funded by NHS England and Health Education England, each county offers ten places targeted at newly qualified nurses, those returning to practice and those looking to move into primary care from other settings.

New way forward

‘It’s still early days, but we’ve had some interesting applicants,’ says Ms Swain. ‘We’re hopeful it will be successful, with the potential for it to be rolled out as the new way forward across the country.’

Successful candidates for what is thought to be the first ever such course will be employed by a host practice where they will work under supervision, developing their clinical skills and competences, with coaching and mentoring provided by experienced practice staff.

One day a week they will attend De Montfort University in Leicester for face-to-face learning, alongside self-directed study. Core skills covered include cytology, diabetes management, asthma and leadership, providing a package of everything needed for a career within practice nursing.

Ageing workforce

‘If you’re seeing 40 or 50 patients a day, having the time and opportunity to develop your clinical skills, and not have to do it in your own time, is really challenging,’ says Ms Swain.

With its 75 general practices, Northamptonshire has similar difficulties to the rest of the country, says Ms Swain. ‘We have an ageing workforce, both within nursing and GPs. But this programme will go some way towards plugging our gaps,’ she says.

Nationally, a 2015 report by the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) said more than a third of practice nurses in the UK are due to retire by 2020. Meanwhile, only around a quarter of practices currently offer pre-registration placements for nursing students, limiting the possible supply of new recruits.

Skills needed

‘While pre-registration training gives you some of the skills you need to go into primary care, it’s not all of them because of the complexity that you’re dealing with,’ says Ms Swain. ‘It means it’s very difficult for a newly qualified nurse to join a practice, and practise safely and autonomously in the way that primary care needs, unless they do something like this programme.’

In a recent interview with Nursing Standard, NHS England director of nursing transformation Paul Vaughan said he wants to make primary care ‘attractive to future generations of nurses, so they see it as a first-destination career’.

A ten-point action plan, backed by £15 million of funding, aims to improve recruitment and retention, with a target of increasing the number of practice nurses by 1,000 by the end of 2020, up from 15,398 whole-time equivalents in September 2015.

Image problem

In the past, Ms Swain agrees that practice nursing has suffered from an image problem, with a common perception that it’s either a stopgap for nurses who are juggling family commitments or a place to tread water until retirement.

‘Practice nurses now have far more responsibility and are delivering complex interventions’

Tina Swain, head of nursing and safeguarding

‘We’re trying to change that,’ she says. ‘Practice nurses now have far more responsibility and are delivering complex interventions, seeing more and more patients. We want nurses to see this as a career pathway, developing other skills as they continue, with huge scope for those who want to progress.’

This includes becoming an advanced nurse practitioner, achieving a prescribing qualification and developing expertise around the management of long-term conditions.

Succession planning

For patients, the hope is that having more nurses will mean quicker and easier access to staff with a full range of skills and experience to meet their needs. ‘It also enables us to succession plan,’ says Ms Swain.

‘We need to be able to support and grow our own workforce within primary care so we’re not always taking from other sectors, such as acute. It gives us the opportunity to develop resilience, especially as more patients are treated within the community.’

The scheme has been warmly received by practice nurse prescriber Clare Donaldson, who works in Cheshire. ‘I think it’s really good,’ she says.

Career option

‘The figures show that we’re going to have such a shortage of practice nurses, with a huge percentage due to retire in the next five years, and I don’t know how we’ll fill the gap. Few students have placements in general practice, so they don’t think of it as a career option.’

She particularly welcomes the formalised training, and the targeting of those nurses whose experience is limited. ‘Those who want to move into practice nursing often find it quite difficult, as some practices don’t want to invest time and money in training,’ she says.

‘Each course takes six months to complete, so it can take a long time to do them all. Having a portfolio that brings everything together, reducing the paperwork, is so much easier.’

Lynne Pearce is a health journalist

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