Plans put forward by nursing's regulatory body to reform nurse education represent a fine-tuning of the current system rather than the radical rethink some hoped for and others feared (see news, page 4). Trusts anxious to fill vacancies on the wards and looking for a long-term solution to workforce problems should give thanks for that.
Despite some broad hints in the past that ministers would like to see some sort of back-to-the-shopfloor reform, the report drawn up by former NHS personnel director Sir Len Peach has resisted the temptation to damn Project 2000 and all its works. His suggestion of a three-month period of practice immediately before qualification, and the 'preceptorship' he wants to see after it, are a sensible means of easing the transition from student to staff nurse rather than the knee-jerk return to apprenticeship desired by those who see nurse education as too theoretical and too academic.
In the short term, Sir Len's proposals should leave newly qualified nurses feeling less out of their depth. And though stepping up clinical placements and introducing an extended induction period will undoubtedly prove a logistical nightmare, the extra cost involved represents a sound investment in valuable human resources.
In the longer term, the reaffirmation that nursing education properly belongs in higher education will prove to be as positive an aid to recruitment as the planned widening of the entry gate to attract those without formal academic qualifications. Such a high proportion of school leavers now expect to go on to university that to exclude student nurses would only deter appropriately qualified candidates from regarding a career on the wards as a serious professional option. It would also leave nurses without the theoretical understanding that is now so essential for clinical staff.
Despite the Department of Health's reassuring words this week, the danger remains, of course, that the government may not see it that way, and that ministers still hanker after a return to some 1950s-style golden era of caring nurses unbothered by notions of evidence-based practice. Trusts, which as employers would have to pick up the pieces of such a wrong-headed approach, should use the consultation period as an opportunity to convince them otherwise.