STUDENTS hoping to train in nursing in Britain, including scores of Irish men and women, will be forced to work for 12 months as a healthcare assistant before qualifying for course funding under proposals for an NHS shake-up.
Nurses already working in NHS hospitals across the country will also have to prove they are ‘fit to practice’ under the new terms outlined by Health Minister Jeremy Hunt.
The moves follow recommendations made in the Francis Report into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust hospital scandal, which revealed up to 1,200 people died at Stafford Hospital as a result of poor care.
Mr Hunt has revealed a long list of reforms to the health service which he hopes will transform the NHS by putting ‘compassion and patient care’ at its core.
The most controversial of the Minister’s new measures will require all student nurses to spend a year as healthcare assistants, helping patients eat, wash and get dressed, before they qualify for Government funding to undertake their nursing studies.
This measure will apply to scores of Irish men and women who come to Britain to train as nurses each year.
Those who refuse to undertake the hands-on work will be denied NHS funding for their degree, which is worth roughly £40,000 over three years and is awarded to almost all of the 20,000 student nurses enrolled on courses each year.
Following the announcement HR officers at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading initially worried that the proposals would impact their policy of recruiting nurses directly from Ireland.
“Irish nurses are well trained and highly professional and, very importantly, popular with our patients,” a spokesperson for the hospital told The Irish Post, adding “Since the start of this year alone we have recruited 76 nursing staff from Ireland.”
The HR team has since been reassured that their recruitment policy will remain unaffected. They have also been assured student nurses from Ireland, like their British counterparts, can apply for financial support under the new proposals once they complete the 12month healthcare assistant placement.
The move, which is subject to pilot schemes, will bring British nursing courses closer to their equivalents in Ireland, where students must complete a 36-week clinical placement during their training.
Mr Hunt claims the practical experience will ensure ‘all staff recruited by the NHS have the right values and understand their role’.
He added: “Spending a year doing lowskill work on wards will give them the training they need to do their job properly, so that patients are treated with compassion”.
Anne Speed from Unison, Britain’s largest trade union for public service workers, claims there is no evidence that the hands-on work will boost nursing standards.
“12 months of work as healthcare assistants sounds an awful lot like the Government wants trainee nurses working on low pay,” she said. The union believes the move could also put the jobs of healthcare assistants in jeopardy.