Quality reviews planned for NHS courses

January 17, 2003

Health courses are to have a streamlined quality assurance system for the first time after an evaluation of prototype reviews by the Quality Assurance Agency and the Department of Health.

Reviews of courses in nursing, midwifery, health visiting and allied health professions were undertaken last year in six universities in England.

Once the review procedures are finalised, all National Health Service-funded subjects will be assessed between 2003 and 2006.

Medicine is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and has not been part of the streamlining exercise.

The reviews have to meet the requirements of the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Health Professions Council, as well as the Workforce Development Confederations that commission courses, the DoH and the QAA.

The QAA evaluation concludes: "The review method offers a real opportunity to integrate and streamline the quality assurance mechanisms in NHS-funded nursing, midwifery, health visiting and allied health professions educational provision."

The DoH evaluation was also positive, although it says that the word streamlining needed defining. Geoff Lucas, pro vice-chancellor of Bradford University and one of the authors of the DoH evaluation, said:

"Streamlining is easy to say but complex to deliver. Different regulatory bodies have to accept each other's evaluations and evidence base."

Paul Turner, executive officer of the Council of Deans of Nursing, said:

"Streamlining needs more work."

He added that when the prototype was rolled out to all universities from 2003, there should be a move towards a lighter touch for those institutions whose self-evaluation document and previous assessments were good.

NHS-funded courses are exempt from the lighter touch promised to the rest of the higher education sector.

Professor Lucas said: "The prototype subjects courses to what is termed a common intensity of assessment - but the pragmatics of rolling this out to the whole sector may mean a lighter version for some."

The reviews are based largely on the QAA's Handbook of Academic Review , which underpins the new quality framework outlined in 2000.

A handbook specifically for reviewing these health professions was published in 2001.

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