Universities are set to benefit from the government's new strategy for educating and training nurses, midwives and health visitors, which was unveiled last week.
"A key feature of the new system will be stronger and more effective working relationships between the National Health Service and the universities," an NHS strategy document says.
The initiative was welcomed by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. "The CVCP has been working closely with the NHS on a number of initiatives to demonstrate the contribution higher education can make to the nursing profession," said Janet Finch, vice-chancellor of the University of Keele, who chairs the CVCP health professions committee.
The Royal College of Nursing also welcomed the strategy, which creates a new career and grading structure for nurses. New pathways into nursing through national vocational qualifications will be introduced, and education and training will be overhauled to allow training to be spread over more than three years if students want to take a break.
The Department of Health document highlights the universities' role in providing practical experience: "Newly qualified nurses and midwives are coming onto the wards without the full range of skills needed for effective practice. Universities and the NHS need to work more closely together, and the NHS, as a major investor in education and champion for patients, needs to give a stronger lead to the universities."
Professor Finch said: "Many universities are already developing new approaches to the ways in which nurses are recruited and paying particular attention to the practical experiences they gain during their studies. Universities endorse a partnership approach and are working closely with the local NHS Trust hospitals and community services."
However, the DoH will take the lead on quality assurance for nurse education. It will work "in partnership with the Quality Assurance Agency, and professional and regulatory bodies, as well as the universities", according to the strategy document.
The DoH is also planning to benchmark standards for nursing training to ensure a consistent outcome countrywide, in collaboration with the statutory bodies, higher education and the QAA.
The CVCP and the NHS executive are due to launch a formally agreed joint approach to providing practical training for nurses in November, focusing on good practice.
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