The return-to-practice course run by Oxford Brookes University helped Melanie Miller-Smith, 43, to restart her nursing career a year ago, after a 10-year break. Having spent nine years living abroad with her husband and three children, she was eager to get back to nursing when the family returned to the UK.

But she says the course, then in its first year, was 'a bit disorganised' and the main potential employer, Oxford Radcliffe Hospital trust, less than welcoming. She was not put off - unlike most of her fellow students: 'When I started out on the course I had mixed emotions. We were all very nervous. In our group of 10 or 11 only three went back [to nursing NHS jobs]. They continued to be scared because they didn't get the right teaching. '

The college course work was 'very good', since it brought the group up to date with government changes to the NHS as well as clinical developments. But problems began when the group was sent on ward placements to clock up hours of clinical experience under the supervision of mentors. She felt that they showed little respect or understanding of the staff in their care, who were often 20 years older. 'One woman on my course spoke to a consultant about a patient, and this mentor said to her: 'do not you ever do that again. You are only a student', ' says Ms Miller-Smith. She says that at the end of the 12-week course, the trust made little effort to contact the soon-to-be re-registered nurses, leaving it up to them to scout around for work.

She is happy to be back at work on a surgical ward at the John Radcliffe Hospital, despite being on D-grade (a decade ago she was a sister) and feeling 'knackered' by the pace of work. A zero-hours contract allows her to choose her hours. She feels the NHS makes it possible, but not easy, for nurses to return: 'If the NHS wants to promote return to practice it needs to be organised in a better way. '