Blog: The future nurse standards, one year on

Published on 19 September 2019

A year on from their publication, our Director of Education and Standards, Professor Geraldine Walters CBE, reflects on the new pre-registration standards for nurses

It’s now over a year since the new pre-registration standards, which we call “future nurse”, were published, and it has gone really quickly.  We know that everyone is now implementing the standards – the real work has started - so it felt a good time to reflect on the journey so far.

When we launched them we were very excited about the new content and ambition for the profession, and, after a couple of years’ work, relieved they were actually finished! But we were also anxious as we knew this was a step change for the profession.

Firstly, because the standards were so different; secondly, because they required people who are already really busy to get their heads around some new concepts; and thirdly, because we know that the sector and the workforce, in particular, is under pressure.

Why change the standards?

We knew that people would be supportive, but would also wonder why we were asking them to make challenging changes now. And we understood that. But, from our conversations and engagement with a diverse mix of people on our register and with people who use services while developing the standards, we were convinced that this was the right direction. The gain would be worth the initial pain.

So why did we do it? Primarily, because it is our job to routinely review our education standards. This is to keep-up-to-date with what nurses need to know and do to provide better, safer care to meet the needs of people as services, treatments, and technology change.

A lot has changed since the standards were last updated in 2010. The new standards reflect new skills and knowledge nurses now require. This has caused some anxiety among those of us already qualified. If updating was not done routinely, we would still be confined to applying poultices and the occasional leech. So new standards have always involved some element of catch up.

The essence of nursing

We’ve also said that certain things are the essence of nursing, and will never change. Ethel Gordon Fenwick, the first nurse on the first register of nurses eligible to practice in the UK, saw care and compassion as essential characteristics of nursing. We agree, and they are central to everything we’re about as we promote Always Caring, Always Nursing, celebrating 100 years of professional pride and awareness about the vital role nurses hold in our society.

When I trained, there was an acceptance that nurses would hand over anything which required more clinical autonomy, or was more technically advanced, to someone else. Our new standards mean that nurses have the potential to be proactive in assessing patients and planning their care and treatment. We know that anything which shortens the time taken from identifying patient needs to doing something definitive to meet those needs is better for patients. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that students training in the next few years will be the finished item when they’re qualified. But they will have baseline knowledge which will give them the foundations of knowledge, and the expectation of taking on more advanced roles in their future as their career develops.

What’s next?

Everyone in healthcare knows the next 10 - 15 years will bring a lot of challenges and a lot of change. We are often asked whether we think the new standards are sufficiently future proofed to deal with that.

Developing knowledge and skills and enhancing the use of research and evidence will positively affect the ability of nurses to think critically and make sound judgements and decisions. These are the building blocks that will enable our new professionals to cope with challenges that we can’t predict now, but that they might encounter in future. 

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