Changes to pre-registration nursing programmes: FAQs

Who did the Nursing and Midwifery Council consult on the introduction of degree-level registration?

We consulted widely and undertook an extensive review and consultation during 2007 and 2008 on principles for pre-registration nurse education. More than 3000 individuals and organisations from around the UK responded.

During the second phase of this work, the NMC focussed on the knowledge and skills that nurses need to practise. A formal consultation took place from January to April 2010 providing opportunities to comment on the standards. The report of the consultation is available in the past consultations section of the NMC website.

Who has been consulted on the implementation timetable you have announced?

We have engaged a wide range of stakeholders including NHS Employers, Strategic Health Authorities, the RCN and the Council of Deans. The timetable we have announced has their support and provides sufficient time to implement successfully.

Why aren’t you implementing earlier, 2013 is a long time away?

Our proposed new standards won’t be able to be implemented until 2011 at the earliest, so a two-year window allows time for sensible planning and implementation. This allows for local flexibility, for example some universities, like those that already run degree-level programmes, will and should be able  to move more quickly than others.

What are the next steps?

The standards for pre-registration nursing education have now been published and are available as web pages and to download from the NMC website. Further work needed to implement them will go on until March 2011. 

Workforce planning issues

How will you ensure that employers influence and use the new skills of new graduates?

Employers are part of our development of the new standards. Employers will continue to work with their education providers to develop and deliver dynamic programmes that meet ever developing healthcare needs. This will ensure that employers can help to shape the nurses coming out of pre-registration education to ensure they complement the delivery of future healthcare in a high quality NHS.

Education content and process questions

Isn’t this just re-branding the current programme?

The new programmes will ensure that newly registered nurses are fit to practise in the reformed health service. It’s therefore much, much more than just a re-branding of current programmes. Existing diploma and degree programmes may be fit for purpose now, but will have to meet the new standards in order to make sure that new nurses have the knowledge and skills (competencies) required to meet future healthcare needs. This will require all universities to review and update their nursing curricula.

How will the new standards and curricula be different?

New nursing competencies will set out what is required of the new graduate nurse. For the first time this will include both generic and field specific competencies for each of the four nursing fields of practice: adult, child, learning disability and mental health. In addition there will be new requirements for teaching, learning and assessment to address the challenges of meeting new and more flexible ways of working and the ways in which the needs of patients will be met as services are reconfigured and new roles emerge.

What will future graduates be able to do that current nurses cannot?

Let’s first be clear, the education and registration of current nurses is not in question. They bring a wealth of experience to nursing and the delivery of healthcare, and will continue to do so. They will be the role models and mentors for future nurses so have a vital role to play in ensuring the successful implementation of the new standards and of a new culture of nursing.

All registered nurses will have achieved further knowledge and skills through their own continuing professional development.

We expect that an all graduate programme outcome will mean nurses are better prepared earlier on in their careers to be more assertive, more questioning  and take more responsibility. This will help nursing as a profession to continue to deliver high quality care in ever changing environments.

What advice would you give someone who has just started a diploma course or wants to do a nursing course in the next few years?

The main thing is that someone does the course that is right for them and gets advice from the right sources. For those nurses who have diplomas there are many opportunities to undertake continuing professional development, including topping-up to degree level. 

Where can prospective students get more advice?

Prospective students can get advice and information from organisations like: the Nursing and Midwifery Council, NHS Careers, Careers services in their school, Unions such as the Royal College of Nursing and UNISON.

How will entry qualifications change?

Our  broad entry requirements will not change. Specific entry qualifications are determined by individual universities. It is likely that there will be some raising of entry level requirements but let’s not forget that around 30 percent of student nurses already do degrees and a large number undertake higher diplomas where the entry qualifications are very similar to those for degree-level programmes.

When will diploma courses cease to be run and degrees be the only option?

We would expect there to be only a relatively small number of diploma programmes available from September 2012 onwards and none from September 2013. 

What impact will the introduction of the new standards have on those wishing to enter a programme using accreditation of prior (experiential) learning AP(E)L?

From September 2013 the only programmes offered will be under the new standards.  However, there will be a period of overlap when programmes under the current standards are still running.

At this point, the only students who will be able to enter a programme under the current standards will be those who have already achieved some of the programme requirements through previous learning.

Existing nurses and nursing programmes

Does this mean existing graduates and diplomates are not fit for purpose?

No. Their education and registration are not in question. They bring a wealth of experience to nursing and the delivery of healthcare, and will continue to do so.  All registered nurses will have achieved further knowledge and skills through meeting NMC renewal of registration requirements for continuing professional development

Will this mean that all nurses will have to have degrees?

No. This change only applies to new nurses undertaking pre-registration programmes in the UK.  Existing nurses will not be required to undertake degrees.  Employers will need to consider, as they do now, whether they wish to support nurses without degrees to ‘top-up’. 

Employers will also need to consider any additional training that nurses may require in order to be effective mentors, particularly those in community settings who will be taking on students as part of their practice learning.

Will current nurses who do not have degrees be allowed to retain their registration?

Yes. We are setting degree as the minimum outcome of new programmes, to ensure that future nurses educated in the UK have the knowledge and skills needed when they qualify to meet the increasing demands and complexity required for delivering care in the future.

Nurses who are already on the register will not have to have a degree in order to retain their registration. Those seeking to gain entry from outside the UK will be required to meet the same standards but will not be required to have a degree. 

Together with the other regulators, we are exploring a system of revalidation so that nurses and midwives can demonstrate the knowledge and skills that they need in order to practice safely and effectively in the different roles they now undertake.  More information will be available in due course.

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