Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
The most experienced nurses will be paid more
Plans to revolutionise the structure of nurses' pay and training, creating £40,000-a-year "super-nurses", have been unveiled by the government.
It is the biggest shake-up of nurse pay for a decade, designed to stem the flow of nurses choosing to leave the profession for better-paid jobs, and comes amid encouraging figures suggesting people are keen to join or rejoin nursing.
Health Secretary Frank Dobson said: "Modern nursing, midwifery and health visiting is not just a matter of personal attention and tender loving care.
"We've got to ensure that their training, their pay, and conditions and their career opportunities are up to scratch to match the reality of the modern job they do."
As well as the consultant nurse post, Mr Dobson announced an overhaul of nurse training, including "take-a-break" training, which can extend the current three year course over a longer period if students want to train less intensively.
The strategy also includes a push for "family-friendly policies" and tough targets to cut the levels of violence against staff by 20% in the next 18 months and by 30% by 2003.
The government's plan is to replace the complex current career grading system with what it calls a "more modern and flexible system", starting at "nurse cadet" and proceeding to "nurse consultant".
Nurse consultants would take on senior roles while still devoting at least half of their time to direct patient care.
The consultants would be the nursing equivalent of specialist doctors - highly experienced and long-serving nurses carrying out extra responsibilities across a whole hospital trust.
Although a similar deal has not yet been agreed for Scotland, nurses in Wales will have the chance to become "supernurses".
Jane Hutt, Welsh Health Secretary, said: "Let's makedsure we have an inititive in Wales to keep people in the profession and then reward them as they improve their skills and qualifications."
"The RCN looks forward to working in partnership with the Scottish Executive through the Nursing and Midwifery Practice Development Unit and the Parternship Forum of the Human Resource strategy to make sure nurses in Scotland benefit from any new deal."
The Department of Health revealed that a massive nurse recruitment drive launched in February has attracted 1,200 nurses back into the NHS.
And 3,000 more people have applied to start midwife or nurse training in the first six months of this year than applied in the whole of last year.
The most recent figures from the Royal College of Nursing said there were 8,000 vacant nurse posts in the health service.
Bob Abberley, Head of Health for union UNISON, welcomed the strategy.
He said: "We are concerned that many of the higher grades remain blocked to existing staff.
"This is the first time in 20 years that the worth of non-registered staff has been recognised by the government. They are to be offered new opportunities for pathways into the nursing profession."
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