Blog: We’re making changes to our pre-registration education programme standards

Published on 01 February 2023

Sue West, NMC Senior Nursing Education Adviser, talks about the changes to our pre-registration education programme standards and how they will benefit educators, students and the public.

sue-west.jpgWe want the UK to be a world leader in nursing and midwifery education. It’s been a really exciting couple of years in this space, and we’ve been working to review and revise our pre-registration education programme standards. I’m so pleased our Council has approved changes that will give educators the flexibility to organise and deliver programmes at the cutting edge of nursing and midwifery education. 

It’s essential that newly qualified professionals join with the right knowledge and skills to provide safe, effective, and kind care for people’s changing and increasingly complex needs. Our standards of proficiency detail what these knowledge and skills are, and what the public can expect from the professionals on our register. Meanwhile, our programme standards set out how education institutions’ innovative curricula ensure nursing and midwifery students achieve our standards of proficiency.   

A milestone journey 

Since the 1970s, the requirements within our education programme standards were underpinned by an EU Directive. Now the UK has left the EU, we can set the full range of pre-registration standards for nursing and midwifery programmes ourselves. We’re determined to make the UK a global hub for excellence in nursing and midwifery education. That’s why, in 2021, we embarked on an ambitious journey to find out what people thought of our standards and whether we needed to modernise them.   

While this was a challenging task, it was an invaluable one too. We drew on best practice from regulators both at home and around the world, from Ireland to the Philippines. We also heard from more than 6,200 voices across the UK, including nursing and midwifery professionals, students, employers, unions, and education institutions. 

We certainly couldn’t have carried out this work without the wide-ranging input from our subject matter experts. Our Future Programme Standards Steering Group, chaired by former Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) for Wales, Professor Jean White CBE, included key partners from across the UK such as the four CNO offices, health education bodies, and unions. And our standards development groups included experts from across the nursing and midwifery fields. This advice and guidance was essential in developing innovative changes that will make a rewarding career in nursing and midwifery a reality for more people. 

It’s important everyone can have their say on our work. That’s why, after developing some proposals, we launched a consultation which received more than 2,500 responses from the public, professionals, and students. This engagement showed us just how important it is was that we got this right, and it was so encouraging that most people supported our changes.  

Education institutions can now start implementing these changes and will see the benefits from September 2023. But what are these changes and what difference will they make? 

Increased flexibility around simulated practice learning for nursing 

The pandemic was a turbulent time for all of us - most certainly for students. But how did we help? Well, we introduced the use of innovative simulated practice learning so that education institutions could continue delivering nursing programmes for the next generation of professionals. We’re now giving educators the flexibility to provide innovative simulated practice learning methods for up to 600 of the 2,300 practice learning hours students need.  

The possibilities for simulated learning are endless. Students can practice, repeat and reflect on their skills, preparing them to deliver the quality of care people expect of registered professionals.   

For example, simulated practice can include the use of actors and role play to portray clinical scenarios. Some education institutions even have immersive rooms, which can depict any situation, from a hospital environment to a motorway emergency. This gives nursing students the experience of delivering care within a variety of scenarios and settings they may not encounter in real life placements. Students can also use virtual reality to carry out simulated clinical assessments. They receive a full analytical breakdown of their progress at the end of each scenario, explaining what went well and what they can improve on.  

These are just a few examples of how nursing programmes use simulated practice learning and I’m excited to see where it can take us!  

Placement settings 

Contemporary nursing is incredibly diverse, taking place across a vast range of teams and settings. From hospitals to the home, prisons to the armed forces - it’s amazing to see! However, we don’t feel the list of placements for nursing students specified in the EU Directive reflects this diversity. That’s why, we’re increasing the flexibility for educators to offer practice learning experiences and placements that are most relevant to their students.  

We’re also adding a new standard to our midwifery programme standards so that student midwives gain experience of leadership and team working within different maternity providers. We want midwifery students to have the opportunity to see these different ways of working to inform how they will practice as midwives. 

More flexible entry requirements 

As a qualified nurse since 1982, I know how fulfilling a nursing or midwifery career can be. Health and care professionals play such an important role in people’s lives. We therefore feel that nursing and midwifery careers should be as inclusive as possible. That’s why we’re giving education institutions more flexibility to determine their own entry requirements.  

Applicants will no longer need to evidence 12 years’ general education before starting their programme, as we know the term ‘general education’ can mean different things to different people. This will make nursing and midwifery a reality for those who may not have had the opportunity to access 12 years’ education, such as refugees and those from travelling communities. While courses will become more accessible, we know education institutions have robust application processes to ensure all students reflect the maturity and competence expected of future professionals.   

We’re producing supporting information to help education institutions implement these changes, and we’ll keep educators updated over the coming months.  

Aligning our programme standards with our standards of proficiency 

The health and social care sector is constantly evolving, and so is the language we use within it. That’s why we’ve modernised the language within our programme standards to align with our updated standards of proficiency.    

Some of you may have also noticed that certain sections of our education programme standards are identical to our standards of proficiency. To avoid any duplication, we’re removing requirements that are already covered in our standards of proficiency for nurses and midwives.  

But we know how vital it is for midwifery students to learn and develop their skills across the continuum of midwifery care, from pregnancy to labour and birth and then postnatally. That’s why we’re keeping some specific learning experiences from the EU Directive within our midwifery programme standards. These experiences will ensure students join our register with the skills and knowledge they need to give the high-quality care women and families have the right to expect, and newborn babies need. 

Ongoing work 

Our engagement with stakeholders showed us that many people want us to take our changes further. We’re exploring this, particularly the possibility of reducing the number of practice learning hours for nursing. It’s important we consider all evidence carefully and that any changes ensure students receive the highest-quality learning experiences. We look forward to engaging with our stakeholders as this develops.   

Thank you 

The public are at the heart of everything we do, and its vital students join our register with the confidence, skills, and knowledge to provide the care people deserve. I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has been involved in this work, whether through consultations, research, or stakeholder engagement. These changes are a milestone for nursing and midwifery education, and we look forward to continuing our work with students, educators and stakeholders in the weeks and months to come.  

Further information: 

  • A list of nursing placements in the EU Directive can be found here (page six).  
  • We're hosting a series of webinars to explain the changes to our standards and how they'll be implemented over the coming years. People can register their interest here

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