A major review of nurse training in England will be launched next month to help push up standards of patient care, Health Service Journal can reveal.

Health Education England and the Nursing and Midwifery Council will launch the review in May to investigate the education standards of the 60,000 annual intake of nursing and midwifery students.

The Shape of Caring Review, which will be led by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Willis of Knaresborough, will also examine the standard of post-registration training for the NHS nurses, which applies once they have qualified and joined the NMC register. Around 390,000 registered nurses are employed in the NHS.

News of the review received a mixed reception from nurse managers. One described the scrutiny as “long overdue”, while another warned of “review fatigue”, saying it could duplicate existing efforts to improve nurse education.

The review comes amid concerns over the standard of nurse training and variation between universities. The Francis report has also called for a focus on values, attitudes and behaviours of nursing staff.

The Shape of Caring Review will consider recent reports into standards of nursing and training and examine the pre-nursing experience pilots which have seen around 160 students work as healthcare assistants for a year before training as nurses.

In a statement Health Education England said: “The Shape of Caring Review will make recommendations for the improvement of pre- and post-registration nursing and healthcare assistant education and training.

“This should produce healthcare professionals of high calibre, who are able to meet the changing needs of patients and the broader population.

Professor Katherine Fenton, chief nurse at University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust told HSJ there were weaknesses in the way nurses were currently being trained saying: “There’s too much variation between universities.

“At UCLH we have set a reasonably high standard when we appoint a newly-qualified nurse and I would say a good 30 per cent of applicants don’t get through that process.”

She said a review of nurse training was “long overdue” adding: “We don’t work hard enough to get the right people on the training programmes to start with; I don’t think we make sure they have the strengths and commitment to the profession when they first start and I believe they need to spend longer in clinical practice than they are now.”

But Professor Ieuan Ellis, chair of the Council of Deans of Health warned of “review fatigue” and told HSJ he was concerned the review would duplicate work already underway: “There are already multiple different projects and working groups looking at different aspects of the mandate for Health Education England.

Lord Willis, a former Lib Dem MP, led the Willis Commission on nurse education for the Royal College of Nursing. He concluded there was no evidence the move to all-degree entry nursing in England had damaged patient care but called for better continued professional development, mentorship and regulation of healthcare assistants.

Exclusive: Review set to probe standard of nurse training