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England’s chief nurse renews preceptorship commitment

The chief nursing officer (CNO) for England has given her ongoing commitment to preceptorship for newly registered nurses and midwives, although concerns about funding have been aired.

Dame Ruth May said preceptorship would “absolutely” be included in her upcoming CNO strategy, which was trailed last year and is due to be published in final form very soon.

“With an election on the horizon, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty about funding”

Stuart Tuckwood

Her pledge came at an event held yesterday in London to mark two years of the national preceptorship framework for nursing in England.

Preceptorship programmes are structured periods of support for a new nurse to help them adjust to their roles and registered practice. However, there have been ongoing questions about consistency of quality and access.

The national preceptorship framework was launched in October 2022 and makes clear that all employers of nurses, nursing associates, and midwives should be providing preceptorship, although it is not contractually mandated.

The framework sets out the core standards that preceptorship programmes need to meet, as well as gold standards that organisations should strive for.

Nursing Times has been shining a spotlight on preceptorship over the past two years in partnership with the union Unison and nursing charity Florence Nightingale Foundation.

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A survey we conducted recently found that access to, and quality of, preceptorship appears to have improved in the last two years, although gaps in support remain.

Speaking at the event yesterday, titled Celebrating Preceptorship, Dame Ruth said the latest Nursing Times survey findings were “good to receive” and showed “some positive steps forward”.

She thanked the nurse leaders in the room – many of whom were leading on preceptorship in their organisations – for their work on improving support for newly registered nurses.

However, she warned that “we’re not done, we need to continue that work” and went on to pledge her commitment to preceptorship, which she said would feature in her new nursing strategy for England.

“I do commit to preceptorship going forward,” she said. “I hope to have a grid slot this month for my strategy, the ‘seven Ps’, which we announced at my CNO Summit back on 16 November last year.

“We didn’t publish it because we had a change in secretary of state three days before and I’ve needed to go on back round an approval process.

“But hopefully, this month, we will see the publication of that. Preceptorship is absolutely in there as a key commitment of mine, to ensure that we continue it.”

It comes as funding for the national preceptorship programme in England, which has overseen the roll-out of the framework, is due to come to an end after March 2024.

Nursing Times understands that there is hope that funding will continue for the programme for at least another year to support embedment of the framework.

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Preceding Dame Ruth on the stage yesterday was Stuart Tuckwood, national nursing officer at Unison, who touched on the issue of funding.

Mr Tuckwood said: “With an election on the horizon, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty about funding at the moment for the NHS. Not just the NHS, but for lots of other services as well.

“So, we don’t know how much support there is going to continue to be for initiatives like preceptorship.” he said.

Unison nursing officer Stuart Tuckwood on stage at the Celebrating Preceptorship 2024 event

Stuart Tuckwood

However, Mr Tuckwood said he was “reassured” by the presence of Dame Ruth at the event.

“I’m really glad to have a champion like Ruth, who I’m sure who is making that case in government for the support that this programme needs,” he added.

“Because we’re all going to have to continue to work on this to make the case for why this is so important, and why this shouldn’t be forgotten.

“Yes, we’ve made good progress, but we can’t afford to squander it now,” he added.

Like Dame Ruth, he expressed Unison’s continued commitment to improving preceptorship nationally.

Addressing the nurse leaders in the room, he said: “Let’s work together to ensure that, in future, we have a health service where we value all of our new nurses by investing in their development.”

Meanwhile, Dame Ruth was also questioned during the event about another funding issue, related to continuing professional development (CPD).

In September 2019, then-chancellor Sajid Javid announced that every nurse and midwife would receive a personal CPD allowance of £1,000 to spend over three years on training.

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At the event yesterday, a delegate told Dame Ruth that nurse leaders were currently in “limbo” over ongoing funding for these CPD grants.

The delegate said: “One of the things that has been very pivotal for us to be able to support our preceptees was the introduction of CPD funding, which has really helped.

“Especially with the reduction of [the] workforce development fund, we are able to ensure that there are [training] opportunities beyond that first 12 months.

“At the moment, we are in limbo. And I don’t know if you will be able to give us some level of assurance or let us know what’s going on beyond April for us to be able to let our news starters know what opportunities will be able to support them within the local organisations.”

In response, Dame Ruth said she was “anticipating” that the CPD funding would be continued.

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