Saturday, February 6, 1999 Published at 01:16 GMT
Nurse 'professors' could bridge training gap
Nursing has been blamed for becoming too academic
New nursing positions that bridge the university-hospital divide could be the answer to concerns about the future of nurse training, a university chief has announced.
Professor Martin Harris, chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of UK Universities, says joint teaching-clinical appointments could act as a bridge between clinical and academic training.
Health Secretary Frank Dobson has suggested the switch to a more university-based training for nurses in recent years may be partly to blame for the nursing recruitment crisis.
He believes it may have made the profession appear too academic and put some people off applying.
But nursing unions argue that pay and conditions are the main causes of the shortage.
They say the switch to Project 2000 - a three-year diploma course taken by 90% of trainee nurses - has been misrepresented.
They say 40% of training is still done in hospitals or community settings and the qualifications needed to enter the profession have remained the same.
But they agree there are some problems that they say are mainly due to a lack of nurses to train students.
Professor Harris believes joint clinical and teaching posts are the answer.
He will tell a nurses' conference on Saturday: "We should do all we can to encourage joint appointments, with senior nursing and midwifery staff working regularly in both clinical and teaching environments with student nurses."
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) supports the joint appointment system, which is already being tried out in some areas.
"The idea of joint teaching-clinical nursing appointments could be an important step in improving the experience of students when on placement in either hospitals or community settings."
The RCN has complained that nursing shortages have meant some students end up being trained by health care assistants, who are on the lowest rung of the nursing ladder.
A spokeswoman for the RCN added that the move would encourage the NHS to take more responsibility for student training.
"It is the NHS's future workforce and they should get more involved. The onus up to now has been on universities. This is a good bridge to effective learning," she said.
The RCN recently conducted a telephone poll which showed nurses backed Project 2000.
It thinks a modernised health service needs university-trained nurses.
"Nurses increasingly need to be able to take their decisions and be switched on and they must be able to work as part of a health team whose other members will be graduates," said the spokeswoman.
At the same time, the RCN wants to widen access to nursing, for example, by widening the nurse cadet scheme for school leavers and creating a fast-track for health care assistants to be trained as nurses.